Mary Beth Sallee
Jobe Publishing, Inc.
The heart is often seen as a symbol of love and affection – perfect timing as Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.
But the heart, and even love itself, is much more than a sentiment or holiday. It also represents kindness and compassion, understanding and strength, all of which can be found within Hart of Autism.
Hart of Autism is a support group for educators, parents, and children with special needs. Adults come together monthly to offer support for one another, to learn about local resources, and to share ideas. Children also participate in therapeutic activities that aid in building social, behavioral, and communication skills.
For the past 11 years, Hart of Autism has been the epitome of what a heart symbolizes. And even during the pandemic, the organization never missed a beat.
According to group member Amy Gardner, last year Hart of Autism was faced with how to continue on with its mission, all the while dealing with the constraints of the unprecedented pandemic.
“After putting meetings and activities on hold for several months, the Hart of Autism board met virtually to determine a path forward.,” Gardner said.
The organization’s primary annual activities have always been to hold monthly support group meetings, plan activities for members, promote awareness within the community, provide a summer day camp within the community, and sponsor an annual family retreat weekend at the Center for Courageous Kids.
Local businesses, community organizations, and generous donors have always made these activities possible through the
success of Straight from the Hart, the organization’s annual fundraising event.
“That was how things were before the pandemic,” Gardner said. “Due to the pandemic, Straight from the Hart was canceled in 2020. Even so, the community continued to support Hart of Autism through an online fundraiser, Giving from the Hart.”
In lieu of quarterly, in-person activities, the Hart of Autism board members decided to plan activities that could be done safely and teach the children about giving back to the community, while also still observing social-distancing guidelines. The group then set aside a budget and outlined activities that fit this criteria.
“We picked some different activities that we could do to give back to the community but that the families could do on their own,” Gardner said.
The activities within the past few months have included adopting six children in Hart County to shop for gifts at Christmas, purchasing non-perishable items to place in the four Blessing Boxes within the county, donating autism books to the Hart County Public Library, and hosting an opportunity for Aly Day and her mom, Deidre, to shop for the animals at New Beginnings Therapeutic Riding.
“It’s been different, but it’s been good,” Gardner said. “The activities taught the children about giving back to the community and provided an outlet during this time of at-home learning and isolation.”
Hart of Autism is also providing virtual support group meetings for children and parents with therapist Molly Caswell. The meetings occur the third Thursday of each month.
The next virtual support group meeting is scheduled for February 18 at 6:30 p.m. CT. More information can be found at the Hart of Autism website at www.hartofautism.org.
For the month of February, Hart of Autism is asking everyone to have a giving heart for others by practicing acts of kindness within the community. Submit your acts of kindness photos to Hart of Autism via Facebook messenger or with the hashtag #givinghart.