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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Autism foundation gives local family the 'vacation of a lifetime'

Autism foundation gives local family the 'vacation of a lifetime'

The idea of taking a vacation often seems impossible for the parents of a child with autism. However, through the generosity of several organizations and individuals in the Rochester community, the Callieses embarked on their first ever family trip last summer, taking their 11-year-old twins Daniel (bottom right) and Jacob (top right) to Disney World.

Amanda and Brad Callies decided to move from South Dakota to the area after their son Jacob was diagnosed with autism in 2011. Although their main motivation for moving was to be closer to the resources provided in Rochester, they were delighted to discover a more vibrant city and welcoming neighborhood than they ever anticipated.

The Callies family received the wonderful news that they were going to Disney World at the RT Autism Awareness Foundation 2017 gala. They were absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity of donors who had never met them, but made this seemingly impossible dream a reality. Although they were concerned about the logistics of the trip and spent many long nights planning so Jacob would have the resources he needed — and his brother Daniel would be able to enjoy the vacation as well — they were able to do so much more than they ever thought possible.

“We talk about that trip a lot even still," remarked Amanda. "We call it our vacation of a lifetime. It was amazing."

RTAAF cherishes the opportunity to send deserving families, such as the Callieses, to Disney World — but it is just one facet of their work in the community. Through providing support and resources for families, to supplying grant money for schools to build “sensory rooms,” the foundation is a large part of why Rochester is becoming a destination for families with children who have autism.

When parents receive the life-changing news that their child has autism, they can often feel lost, wondering where to look for help or guidance. This scenario was certainly true for Amanda and Brad, who were caught in a whirlwind of emotions after Jacob’s diagnosis, and felt as if their hopes for their son were slipping away in front of their eyes.

RTAAF seeks to ameliorate these overwhelming and disorienting situations with CARES, a 12-week program educating families about the resources at their disposal when they receive the news that their child has autism.

As a part of the program, RTAAF also hosts speakers to discuss parenting tips, and provide support for all members of the family, including siblings who do not have autism. Even after the 12 weeks is done, the foundation remains a source of support for these families.

“This foundation has always sort of radiated passion for helping people,” said James Rechs, executive director of RTAAF. Building off of the excellent early identification in Rochester school districts, and the strong developmental pediatrics program at Mayo Clinic, the foundation has helped countless families since it was founded 14 years ago.

Although the Callies family moved to Byron mainly for the resources in Rochester, they have been delighted with the vibrancy of the area and the warm community that welcomed them.

“I think Rochester has a lot to offer," Amanda told me. "It’s a big little city."

“But yet it’s still small enough that whenever you have to do something you run into someone you know,” added Brad.

With the support of their community and the resources provided by local organizations, the Callies family has high hopes for Jacob’s future.

“If Jacob doesn’t learn anymore or change in any way, that is okay because we will love him just the way he is for who he is," said Amanda. "But slowly, Jacob continues to change. He has changed leaps and bounds . . . Moving to Rochester was one of the best decisions we have ever made.”

With the help of passionate, dedicated, and knowledgeable people such as James Rechs, Rochester is becoming a better place for children with autism and their families. It is just one example of the generosity and warmth (even in the -30 degree days) of this “big little city.”

Nora Eckert is a conversation enthusiast who loves storytelling, whether it is a feature for her website, The Conversationalist, or within her capacity as a marketing and communications specialist at a local biotech company. She is looking forward to building upon her undergraduate degree in English and business with a masters in journalism. 

Cover photos courtesy the Callies family

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