By: Claire Dees, Executive Director, Spectrum Autism Support Group
More than 1,500 families looking for support, education and resources now turn to the Spectrum Autism Support Group, a nonprofit in Gwinnett County, started nearly 20 years ago by two parents of children with autism. Spectrum provides monthly support group meetings for parents of children with autism, dads, grandparents, siblings, and parents with adult children with autism, as well as social skills programs to meet the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum.
Groups are offered the first Thursday of each month at the First Baptist Church of Duluth. An extensive camp program offers seven weeks of day camp at the Lawrenceville Church of God and a weeklong overnight camp, Camp Journey, at Camp Twin Lakes, Winder. Spectrum also offers respite, community training and family events throughout the year.
Kelly Laco, chair of Spectrum’s Board of Directors and a parent of a son with autism, said: “Spectrum has become a safe haven for my whole family. It’s a place where I can go and people ‘get it.’ I don’t have to explain, because the families there are going through the same things in life that I’m going through. There are social skill groups for my son, who just happens to have autism, where he has made life-long friends. There is a dad’s group where my husband can go be with other dads who have the same concerns he does. There is also a sibling group for my daughter so she can see she isn’t the only little girl with a special needs brother or sister. The group helps her deal with the issues of being a sibling. As a mom, I just feel at peace with Spectrum. I’ve not found anywhere the support, resources, education, and love I receive there.”
“Creating an organization to provide hope, encouragement and support was the initial goal, but it is amazing to see what a group of parents have accomplished,” said Claire Dees, executive director and one of the group’s founders. “Since we began with 100 members, the numbers of individuals and their families - as well as the variation in needs - has dramatically grown each year along with the multitude of services we offer.”
Since the start of Spectrum, the prevalence of autism in children in the United States has increased by 119.4 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control, now one in 68.
“The impact of autism in our lives has motivated us to make a difference for our children and our community,” Dees said. “Sometimes parents share the best resources. We learn together. We understand what this journey is like. Sometimes you just need to know someone else understands what you are living each day.”
“Spectrum and its many members are always ready at an opportunity to not just create awareness, but encourage acceptance and inclusion in the community,” Dees said. One ongoing effort is through Spectrum’s “Kommunity Inclusion Project (SKIP),” which offers free community training for churches, camps, schools, and organizations that desire to learn how to better include those with autism.
Spectrum organizes several fundraisers each year to support its camps and clubs, including the 11th annual Georgia Race for Autism, which is Oct. 7 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds (www.georgiaraceforautism.com). Spectrum will host a wine tasting and silent auction at Suwanee Station Clubhouse on May 20, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. To purchase tickets for the wine tasting event, register for summer camps, volunteer for events, make a donation, or to learn more about Spectrum, go to www.atl-spectrum.com.
Claire Dees is executive director of the Spectrum Autism Support Group.
People Helping People is a publication of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health & Human Services. For more information contact Ellen Gerstein at email@example.com or at 770-995-3339.
Oct 27, 2016
Primerica recognizes philanthropic grantees at employee luncheon
By Keith Farner / firstname.lastname@example.org
Duluth-based Primerica recently announced during a luncheon event grantees of The Primerica Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm that honored five nonprofits selected by Primerica’s employees.
The grantees represented at the event were: FurKids, Happy Tails Pet Therapy, Lift Up Atlanta, Spectrum Autism Support Group and the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services (Veterans Resource Center).
“The Primerica Foundation grant came as a complete surprise and at a most critical time in our growth as an organization. We serve over 1000 families a year impacted by autism in our community,” said Claire Dees, Executive Director of Spectrum Autism Support Group. “The rate of autism continues to increase and this funding will enable us to continue to help more families and children impacted by autism.”
The Primerica Foundation is in its sixth year of operation and has funded 236 grants that total more than $5 million to nonprofits throughout Georgia, particularly those located in metro Atlanta and Gwinnett County.
“The core of Primerica’s charitable funding is to support nonprofits that help move families into self-sufficiency,” said Karen Fine Saltiel, Chairman of The Primerica Foundation. “We also fund nonprofits and support causes that our employees care about through the annual employee choice vote. Our employees vote from among a list of nonprofits representing a variety of causes (and) the top five with the most votes receive a $10,000 grant from The Primerica Foundation.”
July 1, 2016 - Spectrum Autism Support Group (Spectrum) is pleased to announce the recent hiring of Claire Dees as their new Executive Director. Spectrum, a 501(c)(3) organization has served the autism community in Gwinnett County and surrounding areas for the past 18 years. Spectrum was established in the fall of 1998, with a mission to provide support, education and resources for individuals and families impacted by autism.
Ms. Dees previously served in a volunteer role as Spectrum’s President and has over 28 years of experience in the field of disabilities, both as a parent and a professional. She was most recently employed by Parent to Parent of Georgia as the Community Engagement Manager. Ms. Dees is very active in the community, currently serving on the board of the Duluth Civitans, Georgia State University’s Center for Leadership in Disability Community Advisory Committee, and the Autism Plan for Georgia’s Advisory Council.
The hiring of Ms. Dees represents an organizational change for Spectrum which, up until this point, has been an entirely volunteer led organization, with a volunteer Board of Directors, comprised mostly of parents of children on the autism spectrum. Spectrum’s Board recently completed a comprehensive strategic plan for the organization, the outcome of which led the Board to determine the feasibility of hiring a full-time Executive Director.
Spectrum offers a wide variety of programs including monthly meetings for parents, social skills groups for children and adults on the autism spectrum, family events, camps and more. Spectrum is especially proud of their summer camp program which serves close to 1,000 children each summer through day camp and a week-long overnight camp. The hiring of Ms. Dees as a full-time Executive Director will enable Spectrum to enhance and expand their current program offerings. Her passion for helping families and knowledge of resources and supports will continue to help improve lives of those impacted by autism in our community.
Kelly Laco, Spectrum’s Board President, says “We are very excited to hire Claire as our new Executive Director. She has proven she is a very valuable asset to us in last 17 years she has served as our President. I cannot wait to see where she takes Spectrum with her new role.”
For more information on Spectrum and their programs and services, please visit www.atl-spectrum.com or contact Claire Dees at Claire@atl-spectrum.com or Kelly Laco at email@example.com.
Spectrum Board Members Kelly Laco Cheri Hakes accept a check for $26,564 from Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation trustee Faye O’Dell in a February 5, 2015 ceremony. Spectrum was one of 89 applicants chosen to receive financial assistance from the Foundation operated by the Georgia Baptist Convention. The funds will be used to provide autism respite care. The Foundation distributed $3,256,924 million in the annual awards ceremony at the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center in Duluth. Thank you Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation!