Category Archives: Vendor Spotlight

VENDOR SPOTLIGHT – The InFocus Project

The In-Focus Project runs an on-line photographic art gallery that is part of Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (CSAAC) in Montgomery County, Maryland. The program teaches adults with autism the art of photography and helps sell the work on CSAAC’s website. In-Focus started in 2008 with six adults in order to bring out their artistic abilities and continues working with them today.

The group meets on a weekly basis. One week the participants will take photographs and then the following week they edit and print their favorites.

The brain-child of Craig Pardini—CSAAC’s Director of Facilities and a professional photographer himself at–In-Focus was developed so that individuals with an interest in art could take photographs throughout the community. Significantly, the Project shines a light on what the participants choose to express; each photo is a snapshot of what they see as important, beautiful, striking or representative of their world.

Craig Pardini

Craig Pardini, Creator of InFocus Project 

Director of Facilities at CSAAC


Craig and other instructors for the In-Focus Project volunteer their time so the participating photographers have a voice through these photos, whether verbal or not, they each gain a chance to tell their stories in photographs. The In-Focus Project has given participates a place to create art and develop communication skills.

Craig describes in what ways the particpants’ photography and communication skills have improved,

“When the program first started, nearly all the photos were blurry and subject matter was cut off. Over time, they became focused, sharp and with good composition.”

Indeed, one of Craig’s photography students advanced so far to submit a piece to the President. The individual was invited to the White House to photograph the President and a landing of Marine One.
“Over the past few years, some of the individuals are now able and willing to communicate with TV or reporters or others interested in their work. They feel comfortable discussing their artwork to outsiders and critique each other on their photographs.”

Craig offered two specific examples of photographers participating in the program and how they have grown. These are Brian and James.
“Brian is a natural at creating landscape-style images. He knows how to angle the camera to ensure the subject shows its natural beauty. He enjoys capturing ‘fine’ detail. With focusing on the small details, his photographs create scenes that can only come out of his imagination. His snaps are so elaborate that it is easy to miss some of the meticulously chosen elements that comprise his work. Photography is one of the few areas where the observer can see what an individual with autism sees or deems to be an important aspect of the stimuli that surround him.

“James is a natural with the quick shot. He has the ability to capture his subject in motion and centered in the frame. He enjoys photographing people and is a fine portrait artist. He would like to be a sports photographer one day and his work is mostly drawn from people that he meets along his photo shoots. He often creates scenes based upon seeing people in the community. His photography is equal parts expression, connection and reaction.”

In-Focus received a grant to assist with starting the program through the Letaw Foundation and they have an online store to help fund the program’s operating needs. The store offers the participants a place to display their pieces and opportunities to prepare them for sale and ship to buyers. The photographers themselves curate the gallery adding new photographs annually and perform a group effort in choosing the images that get published including commenting, critiquing and critique, comment and offer encouragement to each other.

The gallery can be found on the CSAAC website.  Printed photographs sell for roughly $60.00 each and come in 8”x10” or 11”x14”.

Goodwill to Those with ID

Kristen Ford-Hernandez is the mother of Jaden, a child with Intellectual Disabilities.  As a parent you may often find yourself facing issues you are not prepared for or know how to address, as a parent of a child with ID those issues may become more frequent and challenging as they get older.

When Jaden turned 16, he began talking about getting a job so he could make his own money.  His mother immediately began asking herself questions knowing that finding a job for Jaden would be challenging.

Kristen and Jaden had talked about his pain and frustration when he heard a classmate making fun of others with ID; he was concerned that people didn’t understand how much ABILITY those with ID may have.  After hearing Jaden’s message, Kristen did some research and found that there were some opportunities for young adults with ID available but they often didn’t provide a financially competitive opportunity.  So they decided to develop a business that would offer those opportunities to earn a fair wage as well as build confidence, personal growth and financial stability.

ACTabilities wants to spread the message of Acceptance, Consideration and Tolerance.  You can help do that by purchasing the variety of products the company produces.  They offer 100% natural soy candles, all natural castile soaps, holiday ornaments, cards, and more!ACTabilities production line

Help spread the message of Acceptance, Consideration and Tolerance this holiday season and support this amazing business.  For more information about ACTabilites visit their website

“Gifts that Give”

Extraordinary Ventures is a wonderful not-for-profit organization located in Chapel Hill, NC that creates and nurtures self-sustaining small businesses designed around the skills of the young adults with autism and developmental disabilities that serve as its workforce.  EV’s workforce currently consists of 5 managers who oversee a staff of 40 young men and women with ASD and/or developmental disabilities.  These employees receive training and are placed in jobs based on their interests and skills.

Extraordinary Ventures operates five businesses; 1. a laundry service, 2. an office services company, 3. a bus cleaning and maintenance service, 4. an events center that rents space for meeting and conferences, and 5. a business that produces and markets premium candles and soaps.  Since the holidays are right around the corner we’re going to feature the last business venture.

EV Gifts are truly “Gifts that Give”.  They feature handmade bath products such as sugar scrubs, soaps in scents like Sandalwood, and Lemon Eucalyptus, and premium scented candles in a wide variety of scents including Fresh Cut Grass, Pear Blossom, Lavender, and many holiday inspired

Each high quality product sold directly employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  EV seeks to help bridge the gap between education and vocation by providing communication structures and manufacturing skills that emphasize the strengths of their unique employees therefor building their self-esteem and proving that they are valuable assets to their community.

If you are looking for a holiday gift that helps make a difference in another person’s life consider looking at what Extraordinary Ventures Gifts have to offer this holiday season.  You can find the products they offer at

If you would like more information about Extraordinary Ventures go to their website

VENDOR SPOTLIGHT – Nike’s LeBron 8 Flyease

In 2012, Matthew Walzer–a 16-year old born with cerebral palsy–sent the CEO of Nike, Mark Parker, a letter. Walzer requested the iconic company to devise a high-top basketball shoe that he could put on and tie himself.

To quote Matthew:

“Out of all the challenges I have overcome in my life, there is one that I am still trying to master, tying my shoes. Cerebral palsy stiffens the muscles in the body. As a result, I have flexibility in only one of my hands which makes it possible for me to tie my shoes.”

Matthew went on to explain that a) he is a big fan of Nike, and b) that he can only wear the high-top sneaker since he needed ankle support to walk. The letter can be viewed is re-printed in its entirety at the end of this post.Matthew Walzer and His LeBron Flyease 8 Sneakers

Inspired by Matthew’s letter, Nike designed a shoe that uses a wrap-around zipper-system sewn into a supportive strap. However, the process took three years and several prototypes. The Nike designers at first focused on keeping the shoe locked-down but after consulting with Matthew over Skype, the company learned that the difficulties extended to putting on the shoe as well.

The end-product is a sneaker delivering sport-level stability with a snug fit. And most important, the shoe can be put on with one hand. Renowned Nike designer Tobie Hatfield was on hand to present a pair of the LeBrons to Matthew when the sneaker was released in July 2015.The LeBron Flyease 8

As of this writing, limited quantities are available and reviews are generally positive although the sneakers tend to be sized on the smaller side and the foot runs slightly narrower than normal.  The sneaker retails for $130.

Matthew Walzer is now a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University…he wears his Flyease everywhere.



Dear Mr. Parker,

My name is Matthew Walzer. I am a high school student and will be a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
I was born two months premature on October 19, 1995. I weighed only two pounds fourteen ounces, and because my lungs were fully not developed, my brain did not receive enough oxygen. As a result, I have a brain injury that caused me to have Cerebral Palsy. Fortunately, I am only affected physically, as others can be affected mentally, physically or both.

I have overcome many challenges in my life. Although doctors from the country’s top hospitals told my parents that I would never walk; and if I ever talked I would have a major lisp, these diagnoses proved to be false, I walk somewhat independently around my home and use crutches when I’m out or at school. I’ve also never had a speech problem. In fact, I am planning on attending college. I have attained a 3.9 grade point average (4 being the highest) and I am taking advanced placement classes. I have a strong passion for journalism and write for the sports and news sections of my high school newspaper. This year I personally received an award for writing one of the top high school sports columns in my county.

Out of all the challenges I have overcome in my life, there is one that I am still trying to master, tying my shoes. Cerebral palsy stiffens the muscles in the body. As a result I have flexibility in only one of my hands which makes it impossible for me to tie my shoes. My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes everyday

I’ve worn Nike basketball shoes all my life. I can only wear this type of shoe because I need ankle support to walk. I am currently wearing the Lunar hyper gamer and LeBron Zoom Soldier 6’s. At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating, and at times, embarrassing.
I know that Nike makes slip-ons, sandals and other types of shoes. However, I and many other physically challenged people are unable to wear them due to a lack of support. When I think of Nike, I think of one of America’s most innovative and forward thinking companies. Nike is always pushing the limits, making their shoes lighter, faster and stronger by using new materials, new designs and new technologies. This benefits people all around the world. Bill Bowerman said it best, “If you have a body you are an athlete.” I believe everyone, no matter what their physical, economic, or social circumstances may be, deserves to call themselves an athlete, and deserves to have a sense of freedom and independence.

If Nike would design and produce basketball and running shoes with moderate support and some kind of closure system that could be used by everyone, Nike could create a shoe line that attracts people that face the same physical challenges I did and still do, yet it could still be possible for anyone to wear them.
I am always searching the web for any type of shoe brand that makes athletic shoes that provide good support, are self-lacing and are made for everyday wear or for playing sports. It is disappointing that no athletic brand has taken the creative initiative to design and produce athletic shoes in this category. I hope that by bringing this to your attention, Nike will consider being the forerunner in producing athletic shoes that will make the difference in the quality of so many lives.

This letter is not a business proposal. I am simply making you aware that there is a need for this type of athletic shoe, a great need.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. No matter what challenges I’ve faced in my life, I’ve always strived to be independent, independence is for everyone.

Best Regards,
Matthew Walzer

VENDOR SPOTLIGHT – Stewart Home and School

StewartHomeandSchool_150803The Stewart Home and School is an impressive residential school in Franklin County, Kentucky for intellectually disabled individuals. At Arlington, we are always searching for creative ways in which our clients can prudently use their special needs pooled trust funds. More families and providers need to learn about this amazing facility.

The school was established in 1893 by Dr. John Q.A. Stewart and five generations later it is still being run by his descendants. We met CEO Barry Banker at a conference in late 2014, who is married to the great-grand daughter of Dr. Stewart and he gave us a tutorial.

Most special education programs end at age 21, and then adult settings focus on vocational options or daily living. Stewart Home and School has no age limitations for students and assigns each person a special education plan in addition to goals for vocational placement, daily living skills, and social maturity growth.  Says Sandra Bell,  the Director at Stewart:

“Our students thrive on structure and love to be busy.  They can’t initiate much themselves but look forward to being scheduled.  Our youngest is 13 years old and our oldest student is 86.”

The old bluegrass estate has residence halls, classrooms, a gymnasium, a pavilion, a fitness center, library, ball field, riding ring, stables, fishing ponds and extensive grounds. The setting is as lovely and complete as any rural college campus. Students at Stewart enjoy the common areas as much as their own private rooms.

The faculty of the school program has experience with the learning styles of people with autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Williams syndrome, as well as other intellectual disabilities. It is the objective of the school program to create successful learning experiences for all students and to consistently reinforce an individual’s enthusiastic motivation for participation and further growth.

While Stewart offers practical curricula — Math, Health and Wellness, Computer Skills, Reading, Science and Social Studies — it also offers a wide variety of electives. Some examples are: Fine Art, Music, Yoga, Leadership Class and Current Events.  One of the most popular courses has to do with daily living skills and money management.  Many families want to emphasize rudimentary math skills in conjunction with an understanding of day-to-day finances.  Each teacher is assigned to a group of students and tasked to create an individual plan.  Progress with an individual’s program is communicated to the person’s family throughout the semester.

The tuition cost is $3,020.00 per month and is the same for every student; this includes room and board. In addition the school instructs that $300.00 or so may be needed for incidentals.  There is no pre-established length of time for a person’s learning program.  While a semester lasts four months, parents can customize a learning program for as short as a week.  More information is available on the school’s website ( 

We encourage clients that have adequate funds in their special needs pooled trust to look into the school as an education option or as an alternative to a vacation.

Morgan’s Wonderland

Summer brings to mind day dreams of sitting by the beach, coconut drink in hand, and the sun setting in front of you. But like any parent with children can imagine, this sadly remains a day dream most of the time. The kids are finally out of school, and when it comes time to take a vacation you know you’ll need to find the right spot. When it comes to accommodating the needs of your children if they have special needs, it’s even more important to make sure the vacation spot is able to make sure a vacation actually feels like a vacation.

If summer has become a boring repeat of hitting the same spots, it might be time to try out a new place.

Feeling bold and brave? If you haven’t visited Morgan’s Wonderland since it’s opening in 2010 in San Antonio, Texas, now is your chance. A park that was conceptualized as a special place for children and adults with cognitive and physical challenges, Morgan’s Wonderland strives to live up to the people it was inspired by. This place is one of the world’s first ultra-accessible theme parks, and has involved since into a 25-acre park that includes a friendly environment for people with special needs, their families, friends and caregivers. Gordon Hartman, inspired by his daughter Morgan, sought to create an environment that was both safe and relaxing. He wanted to create opportunities for his daughter and other children with special needs could connect. While most theme parks make it easy for children to interact and have fun-few are easily accessible if a child has special needs. So what exactly makes it different from the typical trip to Disneyland or Disney World?

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Surfers Healing

“Do I work, or do I make this world a better place?”

According to Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz, he’s on this planet to help take children with Autism out surfing. Founder of Surfers Healing, Izzy Paskowitz is a former pro surfer. He first began surfing in 1969 when his father took him out for the first time. He calls it the “kick off” into surfing, when he began surfing with his seven brothers and one sister. Then he began pro surfing all around the world. Traveling as a pro surfer was definitely unique experience Paskowitz, who had dreamed about this his entire life, especially when given the opportunity to meet guys who were the legend of surfing.

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Book # 7 in Our 30 Days-30 Books Series

We’ve been sharing books that we’ve heard would be a great read for you. Here’s book #7, of our 30 days-30 special needs books!

The Reason I Jump, written by Naoiki Higashida, tells the story that many parents wish they could hear. This is a one-of-a-kind memoir that shows just how an autistic mind thinks and feels, and the reviews agree. Family members and parents of individuals with Autism will finally get to learn about the quirks and why their kids might do the things they do and not from some scientific research, but from the writings of Naoiki Higashida.

If you’d like to read more about this book, just click on the book cover.

Lott Industries – “A Whole Lott More”

At first glance, you might not think there’s a lot to Lott Industries of Toledo, Ohio. A company that excelled in the automotive industry was facing closure like similar companies thanks to the decline of the auto industry in neighboring Detroit. Known for employing over 1,200 works with developmental disabilities, Lott Industries was in a tough situation. They had twelve months to reinvent themselves and to save the livelihoods of their employees.

The critical journey to reinvent the company is followed in a documentary that came out last spring. It follows the perspectives of three unique and memorable characters. If you came into Lott Industries you wouldn’t know these people had disabilities, you would just see workers. According to the film’s website, more than eight million people in America have developmental disabilities, and 80% of them remain unemployed. The documentary follows Wanda, TJ, and Kevin. Continue reading "Lott Industries – “A Whole Lott More”"