Autism: An Interview with the Founders of William’s Garden

An Interview for Whippoorwill Journal with Marilyn and John Winright, founders of William’s Garden: A Camp for Autistic Children.

WJ:  In the Testimonial section of your website, you and John describe the initial decision to start William’s Garden and your belief that it is a God-given mission. Can you elaborate for our readers how you came up with the idea and what it means to you as Christian to be able to serve in this ministry?

Marilyn: I’ve always loved children and working with them.  For years I’ve worked as the girls club leader in our church, as well as teaching Sunday School and assisting with the teens. I was immediately on board when John approached me with the idea of starting some sort of a camp for children as a retirement career. This was something that I could get excited about because of my love for children.

We originally thought about a “camp” for children with Down’s Syndrome. We were familiar with illness and felt a strong desire to try to make life more complete and fun for those special kids. Then, after sitting down with our consultant, Ms. Dee Moody, also of Gaffney, SC, we learned that there are many programs available for children with Down’s Syndrome. However, we discovered a new, growing type of special needs children, those suffering with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders, and very few local programs  or other assistance available to help them and their families. We didn’t know that much about Autism. We’d heard it mentioned, but knew few details. John and I did some research and realized there was a great need for help in the Autism community.

As to what it means to us as Christians to be able to serve in this ministry: we feel that God has laid this project on our hearts and has given us the desire to do whatever we can to make William’s Garden a complete success. We are excited and hopeful every time we sit down to discuss our next step. We consider it an honor to be used of God to make the life of children with Autism and their families happier and more productive. We also hope that William’s Garden will help remove some pressure and aid the parents of autistic children as they try to find a place within our community and work toward their child reaching his or her greatest potential.

We believe that God leads us every step of the way and guides us in this effort. We feel confident that he confirms His Will in this for us through some awesome signs. That’s what we write about in our Testimonial on our website, www.williamsgarden2010.com.  There’s just nothing more fulfilling then knowing that you are doing the will of God.

WJ: What were the most difficult steps in the journey once you and John made the decision to start the William’s Garden project?  And, how did you overcome those places of struggle?

Marilyn: William’s Garden is still a work in progress and, so far, we’ve been blessed not to have what I would call “struggles”, but we have had to learn more patience. Creating a non-profit organization is not an easy task. There are many rules and regulations to follow. I’m sure that as we move forward there will be difficult times, but we know that God will provide the way for us to get this done.

WJ: Tell us about the struggles and the joys so far in this endeavor?

Marilyn: The hardest part at the moment is waiting for the finalization of our 501(c)3 Tax Exempt Status. We’ve gotten a head start by getting our name out to the community, we are working with developers  create the plans for the facilities and the campsites. It’s a process that takes time. Sometimes it’s a struggle to be patient, but we are making progress, and that’s what matters. Slowly but surely, William’s Garden is coming into being. We’ve met, emailed, and had comments on our website from parents who are so excited about what we are doing and how it will benefit them and their child with Autism. That’s a real joy. To know that we are already making a difference.

WJ:  Can you give us an idea, a description, of what you see William’s Garden becoming in the next 3 years? Five years? What are some of the goals and benchmarks you’d like to meet?

Marilyn: Wow! What we envision for William’s Garden? Lots! That’s for sure.

Our plans are to have a facility constructed on 7 acres of land that will include a shelter-house for outside activities and gatherings, campsites for 10 children and their counselors for a week long summer camping experience, outdoor gardening projects as well as nursery garden, and a “petting zoo” with farm animals and a few exotic animals. We have hiking/nature trails and will have horse riding  for the children as well. We plan to build “dorm” type sleeping facilities, offices for professional service providers which will include psychologists, therapists, family counselors, etc., as well as a Sensory Room, a computer lab and a Media Room for photography.

We plan to work with the school system and provide after-school programs for those kids who need extra help with homework, and communication and socialization skill sets. A swimming pool will be available to teach swimming lessons and water safety (which is very important because the Autistic child is often drawn to and sometimes has a deep fascination with water). As William’s Garden grows, we plan to offer various job training programs such as growing and selling produce, pottery classes, basket weaving, all types of arts and crafts, and some specialized training for industry within our community. We will begin with those children/youth from Cherokee county, SC and then expand into surrounding communities. We hope to one day be a national program.

A BIG part of our focus will be on making our program affordable. Most of what these special children need is not federally funded. We hope to raise enough in donations, contributions, and sponsorships to make it possible for ANYONE who wants to participate to be able to do so.

WJ: On your website, you mention that you do not have an autistic child and explain why you felt pulled toward this project. Can you explain that a little here for our readers? Also, how do your children feel about the project and will any of them be involved in it?

Marilyn: John and I love children and wanted to do something in our retirement years for children with special needs. It’s just something that we feel the need to do in our hearts. What really solidified the decision for me was an event that happened a few years ago in Spartanburg, SC. A 2 1/2 year old little boy was playing outside with his siblings when his mother needed to run back into the house for just a moment. When she returned, he was gone. She searched for 2 hours with no sign of him so she called 911.  There was a massive search. two days later his little body was found not far from his home –  in the river behind where he lived.  His mother said he had always had a fascination of the water. Investigators assumed that he could hear the sounds of the river, which was full because of recent rains, and went looking for it.  He apparently slipped and fell.  I followed it on the news very closely – there was just something in that little boys eyes… he had such beautiful, sweet, precious eyes! It just tore at my heart when I heard that he had died. His name was William. It just seemed fitting to name our program William’s Garden in his honor. His mother is aware of what we are doing and is supportive.

John and I, between us, have 6 sons, (as well as a foreign exchange student that we had several years ago that we also consider a son), 2 (3) daughter-in-laws, 1 (3), grandsons and 6 granddaughters.  They all support what we are doing with William’s Garden and are as excited as we are about it. Our youngest son, Caleb, lives with us and will be helping us with the gardening/landscaping/maintenance aspect of William’s Garden. He loves helping us with the planning and is really looking forward working in the gardens with the kids. The rest of our family lives all over the US, but if they were here, I’m sure they would be willing to do whatever it took to help make William’s Garden  a success.

Originally published in Whippoorwill Journal, Spring 2011 edition. Http://whippoorwilljournal.com

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Confessions of a Book Lover

Bibliophile ~ A collector of books. An avid reader or book lover.

Okay, I admit it. My name is Marissa and I’m a book lover. They hold a special power in my life unlike anything else.

Books actually helped me choose my new home two years ago. The beautiful, ornate, wood floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the living room made this house a “must have.” My husband understood that immediately when we opened the door and walked into the room for the first time. My “ooh, look at the bookshelves,” sigh caused a laugh and resigned eye-rolling.

We talked about the various other merits of the house for a few days: the huge yard, the wonderful wood deck, the hardwood floors, the large kitchen, and the renovated bedrooms. We discussed it all as if there was a decision to make, but we both knew the decision was a given,that the bookshelves were a “sign” and that this was the perfect house for us.We moved in a month later.

I unpacked boxes of books, loading them onto the shelves, starting in the middle. I suddenly realized that the double bookcases covering an entire wall of the living room were much larger than they looked. I only had enough books to fill four of the ten shelves. I made a mental note of the number of books I would need to fill-up the cases. Wow! Time to start buying more books!  No happier thought than that ever occurs to a bibliophile!

Two years later I am a beloved customer of Quality Paperback Books, Barnes & Noble, Folio Society, and quite a few other book stores and publishers. I’m doing my part to stimulate the economy, keep literature alive, publishers publishing, and writers writing! I’ve made progress on filling the shelves and only four empty ones remain. Those should be filled by the end of the year.

I have more unread books than ones I’ve read on my shelves for the first time in my life, and I am buying books at a faster pace than I can read them. I am a voracious reader and owning so many books I haven’t yet read is an anomaly in my life, but it’s an anomaly I’m beginning to enjoy. The unread books are like fine chocolates waiting to be devoured when appetite demands. I love knowing that those mysterious sweets are there waiting for me. 

Some co-workers were talking the other day, asking each other the imaginary-scenario question: What would you do if you won the lottery for a million dollars? I listened as they all talked about buying houses, yachts, new cars, huge HDTVs, and new computers. When they came to me, the answer was much simpler and more nerdy: I’d go to Barnes & Nobles and buy every book I wanted!

My co-workers looked at me as if I’d turned into a frog, declared this a terrible waste of lottery winnings, and responded with awe-struck gasps of…

“Why?”

“Why would you want all those books?”

“You know they have Nook and Kindle now, you don’t even have to buy real books like that anymore.”

Yes, I do know about Nook and Kindle. I understand that the world of books and publishing is changing dramatically in our lifetime. I hear the news stories, read the blog entries, and listen as the pundits declare an end to hard copy books. I’m listening.

I also realize that very few students need to go to a library, learn how to use an antiquated card catalog system, or pick up a hard copy encyclopedia. They are more likely to do all their research on the web, cite Wikipedia information in term papers, or purchase college essay papers from one of the many companies providing them online for $19.95. My children knew libraries, book stores, and hard copy research for school papers. My grandchildren will have no memory of a time before computers and the Internet.

I remember Windows 3.1, America Online in its great heyday, and the Internet when dial-up was the only access. But, I too am growing and changing with the times, and have made my own personal strides forward into the digital age. You can follow me on Twitter, read one of my several blogs, or view my work as an editor for the online magazine, Whippoorwill. I own three computers, all equipped with wireless access, and the new laptop I purchased came with Nook included. I’m listening to all the chatter about the end of books as we know them, but I don’t agree with the chatter. I am a true bibliophile, and, for a true bibliophile, nothing replaces a “real book.”

I may use online texts, search engines, Wikipedia, and even Nook, but none of these resources gives me the same joy and happiness as a traditionally published book. I will always prefer hard copy, printed and bound books. Books that smell of ink and paper, that sing with crisp pages, offer margins for notes, and can be gifted to others as something very personal and intimate. I love being able to return to the same beloved books again and again, rereading pages that hold important revelation or insight, opening to a favorite section and participating in the dialogue between writer and reader.

We are old friends taking time for a chat. Each book on my shelf is like a precious relationship, a voice and persona I am acquainted with, one that I know. The writer lives in those dry inky pages, is resurrected as I hold the book in my hands, listening to his voice flow from the pages. Old notes, highlighter marks, and red-ink underlines are reminders of our journey, of time we have shared on other lost days.

I willingly embrace the new mediums, resources, and tools available to writers, readers, and the world at large. However, as a book lover, a person in love with and addicted to true “hold-em-in-your-hand” books, I think it’s important to remember that change does not always equal demise.

The world is a big place. Traditional book publishing may go through deep changes during the present decade, but I believe the world contains many closet bibliophiles like me who will continue to love books, want books, need books, spend too much money on books … and keep trying to fill their bookshelves with assorted books, a source of sweet chocolates to be devoured at their leisure.ß

 

Reprinted from Whippoorwill: an Online Literary Journal, Spring 2011.

 

 

 

The Bird Calls His Presence

It is a first memory. The plaintive call of a Whippoorwill in the night. I’m a small child sitting with my grandparents on their front porch as a gentle wind drifts by carrying the smell of gladiolas on its wings. The bird calls his presence.

 

Whippoorwill has been calling to me for the past year. A quiet, sad sound rolling through my mind like the song of the bird I listened to as a child.

The list of pros and cons for starting an online literary magazine (or any literary magazine for that matter) in our world today does not add up in equal columns.  We are a world of sound-bites, quick thrills, and Twitter. The list of cons is much longer than the list of pros in a culture that grows less literate with each passing year. And, of course, there are the questions one must ask: Is there a market for such a publication?; Do we really need another lit mag?; and, Can there possibly be anything left to say? These are all valid questions to ask and consider.

For most of the year my answer has been a resounding No. No, the market isn’t very large. No, we really don’t need another lit magazine. No, there isn’t anything left to say. After all, everyone is talking, but so few people are actually listening, right? Everyone has a blog, but how many followers do they really have? The news shows and Internet are filled with voices 24-7, but Americans are so busy they seldom have time to listen. I (like many of my peers) need a secretary just to keep up with my “favorites” and my RSS feeds, and my subscriptions, and then there are the Tweets and Facebook updates. We are inundated with words – we can’t possibly need more.

And then, a strange thing happened to me. I realized that I had not welcomed the shift from printed materials to online materials into my life. I decided it was time to stop dismissing online magazines and blogs as “online diaries” and investigate and explore their true essence.

I started reading more blogs, amassing RSS feeds and subscriptions, joining various writers blog groups, and listening to what the world was saying. It’s been a wonderful experience and I’ve discovered surprising writers with tremendous talent lurking in the mist of Cyberspace. I found new information mixed in with totally unexpected epiphanies.

I’ve come to understand that there are literate, diverse writers and publications with great insight and joyous gifts to offer. I’ve also discovered that people ARE reading, commenting, and contributing.

My recent exploration helped me to realize that art isn’t usually about what we need in a logical sense. It is more often about what we need in the deepest parts of our human selves. We need to create, we need to express, we need to sing our songs. And we need to have those sides of our truest, deepest selves validated and cherished by the world around us in some way.

That artistic expression and validation is the goal of Whippoorwill. It is intended to be a place for exploration and growth, a place where we can sing and here another’s song, a place of validation for our artists ego’s – where talent can become inspired, shared, and appreciated among peers. It is with that train of thought that Whippoorwill begins its journey. I hope you’ll join us and I bid you a heartfelt Welcome!

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Note on Whippoorwill content and submissions: The theme and purpose of the magazine are intentionally loose and undefined to encourage open artistic submissions. Submissions will be accepted on a continuous basis. Initially, two to three issues per year are planned with a possible print edition of “The Best of…” produced yearly, depending on the submissions and audience we obtain.

Please feel free to email with ideas, suggestions, or questions about possible content. Please send submissions in body of the email to: marissa@whippoorwilljournal.com. We are seeking poetry, fiction, flash fiction, essays, non-fiction. However, we prefer not to see genre fiction, horror, or deeply erotic works at this time. Again, email or send a blog link if you’re not sure. We are also seeking regular bloggers and contributors. Pay scale is determined individually with the author.

 

 Re-Post from Whippoorwill at http://whippoorwilljournal.com/blog/editorial-musings/the-bird-calls-his-presence

 

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