56: One Hundred Smiles

56: One Hundred Smiles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

One Hundred Smiles

Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

~James Matthew Barrie

As I sat in my car in the Target parking lot, killing time before my next appointment, it came to me like a vision. My hands were shaking as I picked up my cell phone to tell my husband how I would use what we had been through to help others. He agreed, and just like that, in a matter of minutes, a new purpose was born from our pain.

After several years in the trenches of autism, my daughter Lizzie was finally doing better and I could breathe again. She was in school all day now, so I had some free time. More importantly, her recent progress had freed up my mind to think about something other than the daily needs of our family.

I had joined the local National Autism Association board a few months earlier in hopes to volunteer wherever I was needed, but it wasn’t until that day in the parking lot that I really knew why I was a part of that group.

When Lizzie was first diagnosed, life was really rough. On weekdays we had thirty hours a week of behavioral, occupational and speech therapy. At night, I spent hours on the Internet researching the latest and greatest treatments that could help give her a chance at a normal life.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Our finances were drained, and although Lizzie was progressing well, I soon realized that I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. Even when I was not with my daughter, I was thinking about strategies to help her speak better and learn how to socialize with her peers. At one point I realized that I hadn’t had a conversation with another adult that didn’t involve autism in over five years!

I never took time for myself, and even when I found myself with a few free minutes, I couldn’t relax. Autism owned me. What I would have given during that hard time for an event that pulled me out of my daily responsibilities and allowed me to be carefree… even if it was just for a day.

So… that was my idea! I was going to use my time and newly freed-up mental energy to make life just a little more bearable for moms deep in the trenches with autism.

The finances were secured and the NAA was on board! We were going to treat moms of kids with autism to a relaxing day that would rejuvenate them emotionally, spiritually and physically.

The big day arrived and one hundred amazing, strong, hardworking moms walked through the doors of an exclusive local country club. I recognized their tired eyes and crushed spirits and prayed that what we had planned for them today would change that.

First, they were given a fun shirt and twenty raffle tickets they could use to try to win the more than one hundred prizes that had been donated. They could put all their raffle tickets down on one prize they really wanted, or spread them out across a variety of prizes. Next, they could relax with a massage, participate in a yoga class or simply lounge by the pool, all while listening to live music from a decade that would bring them back to a time when their responsibilities were not so heavy.

At noon, they gathered inside the beautifully decorated ballroom to enjoy a gourmet lunch and listen to an inspirational speaker, who challenged them to find peace in their tough circumstances. There was laughter and tears. At one point, I looked around the room and each and every mom had a smile on her face! One hundred beautiful glowing smiles! I had known some of these women for years and never seen them smile.

As the clock struck two, the women slowly filed out the door with their bags of goodies and new friendships. Many seemed a little lighter, as if a burden had been lifted, even if only temporarily.

When life’s circumstances are so difficult, sometimes it is important to take a break from reality and just relax. I was so grateful that I was able to spearhead this event and see each of these women leave with a renewed spirit of hope and determination. The “Autism Moms’ Day Out” was so popular that it has become an annual event.

~Julie Hornok

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