Tyler Forgeron, a Walpole resident served by The Family Autism Center was recently awarded the 2020 Jane Forsberg Advocacy Award for his efforts through Tyler Can!, a recycling initiative he launched through social media during the Covid-19 pandemic, collecting bottles and cans. He has raised thousands of dollars for local charities. Brian Clark, Director of The Family Autism Center and Christine Baker, Adult Support Coordinator, presented the award thanking him for his leadership, advocacy and dedication to his community. The Family Autism Center is a grateful recipient of his efforts by receiving over $1,300 slated for its programs. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Tyler has been an active participant in the community as well as volunteering at our programs.
Dexter Young has been a part of the Lifeworks community since 1998. After living in a group home in Foxborough for over 11 years, Dexter made his dream of living in his own apartment come true. Dexter is very independent and is quite the entertainer and athlete. He takes pride in his home and all of his electronics that he has purchased for his apartment with his paycheck from working at Old Navy. Dexter is a champion bowler, and participates in our floor hockey program and many of Lifeworks’ social events.
Grandparents Support Group at The Arc of South Norfolk
When the Family Autism Center officially opened in January of 1997, a Grandparents Support Group was created shortly thereafter and facilitated by its founder Dick McKeen of the Massachusetts Chapter of Autism Society of America.
The group met at The Arc of South Norfolk’s campus at 789 Clapboard-tree Street in Westwood.
Lucy Erhard, a parent of an adult child with autism, joined The Arc in 2001 as a Family Support Coordinator. Three years later, Lucy asked her supervisor if she could make the Grandparents Group part of her job responsibilities. Dick McKeen welcomed the idea and Lucy soon became co-facilitator with Dick. When Dick became ill, Lucy took over as lead facilitator.
Two years after retiring from The Arc of South Norfolk in 2012, Lucy received a call asking if she was able to rejoin the group and take over as the group’s facilitator. Without hesitation Lucy agreed to take on the task. Lucy has always envisioned the Grandparent Support group as a supportive learning experience. The Grandparent Support Group meetings cover a wide array of topics and often have guest speakers. Speakers include parents of children with ASD; Behavioral Consultants; lawyers specializing in families dealing with loved ones with special needs; Department of Developmental Services, Easter Seals, AFAM as well as speech and language therapists. Topics have included medications; obtaining custody of grandchildren; health concerns; estate planning; The Autism Law Enforcement Education Coalition Program or anything that grandparents bring to the table. There have been a grandmother and a grandfather who have relocated to help raise their grandchild. “It’s a wonderful way to support their children who are themselves struggling to deal with a child diagnosed with ASD 24/7”, says Lucy Erhard. When Lucy started with the support group there were 22 grandparents. Presently, there are 10 sets of grandparents participating in the group as some have sadly passed away.
Lucy says grandparents who attend the support group often grieve the loss of typical grandchild. They grieve
twice, once for their grandchild and a second time for their own child. They appreciate the comfort and support they receive from each other. “They come to the meetings eager to learn everything they can”, said Lucy.
Two Grandparent Support Group members share the same 10- year-old grandson who has autism. Elena, the paternal Grandmother loves the support the group gives to one another. “I have a deeper appreciation of what others are going through,” says Elena.
Elena also appreciates the efforts Lucy has made bringing in the variety of speakers. Prior to joining the group, she felt a bit uneducated and not equipped to help her grandson or his parents. “Lucy has been a terrific facilitator bringing in various speakers including Representative Paul McMurtry” said Elena.
Representative McMurtry is a strong advocate of the special needs community and has met with the group for feedback on their concerns. “The participants in our Grandparents Support Group bring a tremendous amount of energy through their advocacy to the steps of the State House each April on Autism Awareness Day”, says Dan Burke, President and Chief Executive Officer. Brian Clark, Director of the Family Autism Center, adds that “The goals are not only to educate and inform people, but also to help our grandparents form important personal connections, share life experiences with one another, and become empowered to help their loved ones. We feel the Grandparents Group has been instrumental in helping people achieve these.” The Grandparents Group is open to grandparents of family members of any age with developmental disabilities.
Rosemary, the maternal grandmother says, “The people I’ve met through the Grandparents Support Group are a very special supportive group. We share lots of laughter, sometimes tears, and a wealth of knowledge with each other.
As the group met for the last time before its summer hiatus, grandparents bid farewell to each other and celebrated Lucy Erhard as she officially retired as the group’s facilitator. Lucy, Rosemary and Elena are looking forward to the next time they get together.
The Grandparents Support Group meets September through June, 9:30am – 11:30am, the third Thursday of the month, with the exception of April when they visit the Statehouse for Autism Awareness Day. New members are welcome and encouraged to join. For more information, please contact Brian Clark, Director of the Family Autism Center, (781) 762-4001, ext. 310 or email@example.com.