The Case for Giving

The reasons to support ACN are many and the demand for services is mighty. Here are some answers to questions you might be asking as you consider supporting the mission of Autism Society of Nebraska.

Why does ASN Exist?

ASN exists to fulfill its mission of improving the lives of Nebraskans affected by autism through information and referral services, education, advocacy, and community building / support network groups. Everything ASN does (all its programming) is in service of this mission.

ASN exists for Jack, a 20-year-old living in Lincoln who is not yet ready for college but has graduated high school and is looking to connect with others who share his experience living as a neurodivergent person (a person on the autism spectrum) in a neurotypical world. As a 20-year-old high school graduate that does not qualify as needing state financial aid reserved for the most challenged intellectually disabled people, Jack is at the crossroads. If Jack receives the support of organizations like ASN, he can continue a trajectory of learning and achievement; if he is not able to receive ASN’s services and programs, he risks becoming isolated and more alienated from a community and a society that inherently favors neurotypical people.

ASN exists for Janine, a mature adult on the autism spectrum who works a full-time job in Omaha, and advocates for autism acceptance in her spare time. For Janine, ASN is her community of friends and a platform to use her talent for writing and speaking to advocate on behalf of her friends and family members on the spectrum — and all other Nebraskans on the spectrum.

ASN exists for Dr. Diane Marti, a psychologist who has accurately and compassionately diagnosed hundreds of people with autism from her practice in Lincoln for the last several decades. ASN is a community that can augment Dr. Marti’s work supporting children and adults on the spectrum (and their parents, caregivers, and family members) after they leave the therapy office. Dr. Marti will be the first to say that a good peer-to-peer support network can provide a qualitatively different form of respite and strengthening to supplement traditional psychotherapy. In some cases, ASN’s support network group meetings serve as the only form of community or respite when traditional psychotherapy is not available. ASN provides environments for Dr. Marti’s clients to live their best lives and experience healthy, supportive relationships.

ASN exists for the newly diagnosed. When your child is diagnosed with autism, what will that mean for their future? What will it mean for your future? ASN provides support network groups that allow parents to learn from and receive support from volunteers who are parents of children on the spectrum in an accessible, safe, cost-free setting.

ASN exists for people in crisis. Our 1-800 toll-free voicemail receives hundreds of calls annually from Nebraskans seeking help in their living situations, seeking help navigating the healthcare system, seeking a listening ear that can offer the understanding that can only come from experience. In this way, ASN exists for the child on the spectrum who is not yet diagnosed, who is not yet in school.

ASN is the voice of these people in Lincoln at the Capitol Building. ASN is the voice of these people in Washington, D.C.

ASN is providing safe, autism-friendly, accessible meetings and gatherings and events that cater to people on the spectrum and their families. ASN provides these events at little or no cost to participants in a time in history where people are busier and more isolated than ever. ASN provides these opportunities to build community at a time when digital interactions are replacing personal interactions. These are opportunities that few other organizations provide. ASN exists because the Internet can be a scary place to look for advice for living with autism.

ASN exists to lead and drive positive change to make Nebraska a better place — a place where everyone is welcome and where people of ALL abilities have a voice. ASN seeks to foster communities in Nebraska that make life as a person with autism as fulfilling as possible.

What would happen if ASN did not exist?

If ASN did not exist, people like Jack and Janine would not have peer-to-peer support groups.

If ASN did not exist, mature adults on the spectrum would have few platforms to meet each other and have the dialogue necessary to inform advocacy that influences the creation of legislature — and opposition to proposed legislation that creates hostile environments for people on the spectrum.

If ASN did not exist, less educators would have access to the annual ASD conference, which seeks to make Nebraska public schools more friendly and helpful for children on the spectrum.

If ASN did not exist, there would be less cohesion, less connections, and more isolation among the Nebraska autism community.

If ASN did not exist, mistreatment of people on the spectrum would be more prevalent in our state.

Perhaps most importantly, if ASN did not exist, the people of Nebraska would not have an organic platform of people affected by autism. Our community is our greatest asset. Not every autism-focused organization in Nebraska has an inborn constituency who can mobilize and help address major issues facing our state, such as definitively determining a statewide prevalence rate.

What is our big, bold vision for the future?

Founded in 1976, ASN was the first autism-focused organization in Nebraska and today has the greatest geographic reach of any autism-focused nonprofit organization. From Scottsbluff to Omaha, the organization impacted more than 1,000 people across the state every month, excluding the 25,000 people who attended or volunteered at its walks in 2018.

But where is ASN headed? Where does ASN strive to be in five years, ten years, 100 years?

ASN is proud to report that the Board of Directors has committed to completing a professionally led strategic planning process by the end of 2018. At the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019, ASN will publish its first iteration of a three-year strategic plan.

All can agree that ASN’s greatest contribution to the autism community in Nebraska is its support netowork groups across the state. ASN seeks to build on its position as a source of information and referral, build on its strengths as a source of education, and build on its strengths as a leader in autism-related advocacy.

Directions of growth will involve expansion of staffing, expansion of volunteer leadership, and increased communication about its many great programs.

How much money do we need to raise?

This year, ASN’s board and staff is charged with raising between $100,000 and $150,000 from foundations, corporations, and generous individuals. Opportunities for government grants are more limited than ever. This goal will allow ASN to execute is programming as scheduled, as budgeted, without depleting its financial reserve.

But the truth is that ASN will need to raise much more over the next several years. Our state deserves an autism society with an executive director that is paid at a fair market rate who oversees programming that offers accessibility to each and every person in Nebraska affected by autism. It is not inconceivable to imagine an annual operating budget of $300,000 or more. Our state deserves an autism society that is comprised of peer-to-peer support network groups that are supported by professional staff that are accountable to an executive director.

Why do we need to raise it now?

ASN must raise money to fuel its mission for the next 100 years because ASN is committed to keeping its programs and services cost-free and keeping barriers low to ensure that no family is denied access due to their economic standing. According to the CDC (2018), autism now affects 1 in 59 eight-year-olds worldwide.

As many medical studies report, our country is in the throes of a widespread national mental health crisis and people on the autism spectrum are the most vulnerable to mental illness and the decline in quality of life that can accompany it. Widespread mental illness is a threat to our way of life; our mission is to do what we can to provide programs and services that can help people treat and avoid mental illness.

We are living in an historic time during human understanding of autism. In the years between, 2008 and 2018, we have endured global concerns over vaccines, we have seen the shift from awareness to acceptance in many communities, and have seen words like “neurodiversity” and “spectrum” become household terms. Going forward, ASN must sustain the momentum built by its Board of Directors in the last decade to meet the challenges related to widespread mental health issues in our community vis a vis autism.

ASN has maximized its ability to impact the state through volunteer forces, in-kind gifts, and unpaid work. To reach the next echelon of impact, ASN must expand its staff and board leadership to ensure that the proper attention is paid to the execution of helpful programs and services.ASN seeks to expand from a volunteer-led force to a business model that more closely resembles a thriving, modern non-profit organization with a board who provides leadership rather than tactical execution, and a paid full-time staff that carries out ASN’s mission daily.

We need to fulfill our unique role in the state. While other organizations do excellent work with diagnostics, medical research, employment and vocational services, and other localized efforts, no other autism-related organization exists to provide peer-to-peer support services and the sort of unbiased education and information referral specific to the autism community.

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