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WhirliDogs Paving the Way

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WhirliDogs Paving the Way

Originally published 8/7/2021

A little over 16 years ago when my son received the diagnosis of autism, a dear friend of mine with a special needs child gave me some wonderful advice: don’t worry about his future right this minute … just concentrate on getting him the therapy and help he needs RIGHT NOW.
I blinked, 16 years went by and I’m looking at his graduation from high school next year right in the eyes and thinking, “The future is now.” And now … what?
My son, Evan, is not quite sure what he would like to do after high school graduation, but if he could, he would probably like to sit on my couch all day playing on Google Maps or driving across the country, neither of which is happening. Well, maybe we’ll hit the road one day.
But until then … job opportunities for young adults like my son are limited. That’s why I was so excited to find out about the WhirliDogs Training Center/Cafe and their plans for the future right here in Wilson!
Not only is having a job and a facility to report to important to my son (schedules are the bomb and open-ended days are a no-no), but also being able to work with developmentally disabled peers and supervising adults who UNDERSTAND disabilities like autism is something difficult to find in communities.
How awesome is it that Wilson, NC has forward-thinking citizens who see the potential in our special children. Different. Not less.
WhirliDogs organizers also know that as great as the need is now for workplace training and job opportunities, the future will demand even more. In the state of North Carolina, an estimated 1 in 39 of all 8-year-olds have now been identified as being on the autism spectrum. And that’s just autism. We’re not even talking about other disabilities! (For some perspective, when my son was diagnosed, the rates were 1 out of 2000 children being diagnosed as autistic.)
Financially speaking, I wish I could do more for the WhirliDogs project, but for now I will volunteer my time to the project and maybe buy a new WhirliDogs t-shirt each season. But I am blown away by the number of families and companies in Wilson and beyond who have donated money, space, equipment and services to make this dream a reality. And when I say “dream,” I just don’t mean the dream of our sons and daughters being productive members of society. I mean the dream of having other people care about our children like we, as parents, do. And for that, I am eternally grateful to the WhirliDogs’ organizers, board members, volunteers and contributors.
Oh, the power of possibility. The power of our children. The power of WhirliDogs.

Janelle Clevenger

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