Each year we take time to recognize those in the autism community who go the extra mile for individuals and families challenged by autism spectrum disorders. From teachers to bus drivers , ABA professionals to recreational providers, those who work to improve access to the community and acceptance of autism deserve to be commended for their efforts .
Our 2017 Guiding Stars
MARIA CUPO Nominated by JACKIE PUGLISI
Maria Cupo is one of those unsung heroes. She is the owner and runs Piccolo Mondo Learning Center in Leominster. My three children attended Piccolo. Maria brought to our attention, in a very kind and constructive way, differences they were seeing with my daughter and my son. We did not see these issues because we had them one on one and not in a social group setting . With my daughter we were in full denial, she is now diagnosed with ASD and we are fighting to get her services. Four years later we faced similar struggles with our son. Maria helped us early on with getting him diagnosed and then getting services he needed. She fought along with us to get him into the city pre-school program. She listened to our concerns and worked with us to develop a program that worked for our son and our family. This early work has allowed our son to truly flourish and be the child he is today. She STILL checks in with us to see how all our children are doing. I consider her a very special person for all the help she has given us and the many families she has interacted with through the years.
ITA MURPHY Nominated by Michelle DellaValle
Ita Murphy is truly a gifted educator. Ita brings a calm presence to meetings and to the classroom. She maintains patience and serenity even when dealing with the most challenging situations. Ita uses best practices in her work with students. Her wealth of knowledge about strategies for students with ASD and early child development allow her to be creative while recognizing that what works for one student, may not work for all. Ita understands the importance of a child’s family and maintaining communication. It’s clear that she loves the work she does. She often buys special toys for students or goes out of her way to plan fun activities. She has touched the lives of many children with autism. The preschool years can be a daunting time for families of children with autism. Ita’s patience, knowledge and dedication make that time just a little bit more manageable.
DEB BOROWKO Nominated by DONMARIE SMITH
Deb has been my son Brandon’s Para for more than three years . She is patient , kind, and caring. She makes sure his work is broken down and that he has all the things he needs and that he understands what he is supposed to be doing. In February, Brandon was hit by a truck, when he went back to school full time he had lots of limitations, no homework, no stairs, and his balance needed to be monitored. She made sure that he kept up with his work .
ALANA DION Nominated by STACEY LAVELY
When you came into our lives
Jagger had lost so many skills
We were barely getting by
Life, health issues and bills
I was skeptical at first
One bad tech after another
I tentatively approached you
The Original Smother Mother
I remember our first meeting
You introduced yourself to me
I turned around to you and asked
Take a pie in the face for Autism, Jagger and me?
Much to my surprise
You were fine with it
That is when I knew
You’d be the perfect fit
Throughout this magical year
You became family to our crew
A teacher, colleague and friend
Picking us up when we were blue
You treat Jagger like your own
Firm – tempered by kindness
Setting the bar high for him
Believing “Different – not less!”
Without you in our lives
We would not be the same
Dare I say we love you
With no regret or shame!
So keep on being
Exactly who you are
Many families will be blessed
With you as a Guiding Star
SCOTT MORIN Nominated by JULIE RENO
Scott has been our Son’s ABA therapist for the past year. Every ABA and BCBA from BCI that has worked with our son has been excellent. They have a way of matching kids to therapists to make a connection for each child, we’ve been so lucky. Our son is four and a half, and was diagnosed at 16 months. He had many severe behaviors and we were not sure if he would speak or not. The day he was diagnosed I had to fight back tears worrying about his future.
BCI came in and hit the ground running. When Scott was assigned my first impression was WOW this is a young kid, I’m not sure about this. Soon some pretty significant concerns came up at my son’s school. I was worried about my son’s safety and shared my concerns with Scott. He was extremely professional and thorough in his handling of this sensitive situation. Scott shared in our communication book any behaviors that came up and how he addressed them. I really appreciate and respect his approach. He’s had some tough conversations with my son who tends to shut down when he is shown how his actions may have been hurtful but he would listen to Scott. Scott always followed up these tough conversations with physical activities which made his constructive conversations even more effective. He’s a natural, very mature and always professional. Scott has been a champion, advocating for our son. We know he will go far in his career and are grateful that our paths crossed, I wish more men would chose this career, our paths would only benefit. Sincere thanks to all at BCI. Every organization should strive to be like them!
Outstanding ABA Providers
CHRISTAL BELLO-CHIPCHASE Nominated by LISA THOMPSON
Christal Bello-Chipchase is a brilliant, gifted and passionate Board Certified Behavioral Analyst. She began working with my daughter as the BCBA at my child’s school in 2013. She came in and got right down with my child and figured out what my child needed to be successful. She listened to me with compassion and genuine interest. She always put my child first, often advocating for her within the school and communicating with me continually. She made a huge difference in my child’s success in the public school, and when she left, we knew we would have to follow her. She became an incredible home BCBA, where she helped make a difference in our home life and continued to be a support to our family through hard times. In 2016 she started her own company: Family Behavioral Health. She and her husband have worked together to create a business that is people centered. She hires top-notch staff, and is always receptive to the families’ thoughts and needs. She is passionate about ABA, but even more passionate about the clients she serves and how to best meet each individual child and family’s need. There is no one size fits all at FBH. She has advocated for her clients in schools, as well as in the community and has even taken her advocacy for our kids to Governor Baker. She has stood by me through one of the worst times in my life, giving hugs, bringing words of wisdom, and crying along with me through the struggle. She has spent time visiting schools with me, sitting in on countless meetings, and always being a voice for my child and my family. Christal will ALWAYS do what is right for the families she serves. I am blessed to have Christal Bello-Chipchase as part of my village raising my child. I asked Erica why she thought Miss Bello deserves an award, and this is what she said, “She runs FBH, and FBH is the best place ever! Kids get to play and learn social skills. She is really good to us there. She is good to me because she helps me when things are hard. She has been helping me for a long time. I feel safer when she is around because she is thoughtful of me and listens to me. She deserves an award because she made FBH and I feel like an important kid there and no one teases me.”
DR JEFFREY ROBINSON Nominated by WANJA KIRAGURI
We are pleased to recognize Dr. Jeffrey Robinson for his ongoing support of our Autism Community in Central Massachusetts. A true pioneer, Jeff was one of a few providers in Central Massachusetts when the center first opened. BCI, HMEA Children’s Services, and the May Institute were the only games in town back then. Since the passage of ARICA we have seen multiple providers open shop to serve the ever expanding numbers of children and adults in need of ABA services. Jeff was also a pioneer as Center based services evolved. Jeff possessed the wisdom and maturity that decades of work in the field brings to our community. He has an ability to think outside the box and a commitment to not just those on the spectrum but to their families and to our community. BCI has been a stalwart supporter of the Center, stepping up whenever we’ve asked for sponsorships, and partnering with us to present exciting activities. We are honored that he thinks our Center is worth his support. Please join me in thanking Dr. Robinson for his vision, commitment and passion.
AMANDA RUSSELL Nominated by Jackie Puglisi
Amanda Russell Owns and runs VERGE Inclusive Athletics. This is a non-profit all volunteer program that she provides free to everyone over the age of seven with or without a disability. She and her husband, Matt, coach track teams at five different sites in Massachusetts on Saturdays throughout the year. They give their time and teach kids the benefits of running and competing in track events, They hold official track meets during the year and also encourage athletes to participate in 5K runs. This program has helped my son to burn off extra steam, and to focus on completing the race. It has given us a social gathering where he feels accepted and valued. He looks forward to going to track to see his friends and to run.
Thank You AJ!
COACH CHIP COLLINS Nominated by JENNIFER POTTER
I can’t think of a better person to be recognized as a Guiding Star than Coach Chip Collins.
My boys have played ball on Chip’s Challenger league team for a couple of years now I have to say this an has had such an impact on so many kids and families. He creates an atmosphere of trust, learning and most of all fun. There hasn’t been a day he has shown up where he didn’t give 110% or more to the kids. We are all so grateful for you and your wonderful family.
COACH SMITH AND MRS COACH Nominated by KELLY CAREY
Coach Smith has been the Shrewsbury High School Cross Country Coach for many years. Mrs. Coach, as she is lovingly known, is his right hand woman. Coach Smith was able to see the potential in and the shining light that is our son Wayne. Wayne joined Cross Country in his sophomore year after Special Olympics proved not to be a good fit. We were reluctant to try but Coach Smith took Wayne under his wing, he encouraged him and built his self esteem and stood up for him with his teammates so that he has been accepted as a teammate. He brought out Wayne’s Shine.
In the Autism Community, it is all about the people in our Village that help give our children wings and help teach them to fly. Coach Smith is the epitome of what a coach is. He teaches and trains but also advises, has patience, infuses passion and believes in the kids.
CHRISTINE JONES Nominated by TIM & CAROLYN DEE
Christine Jones has shown continued commitment to the autism community. She became our son’s behavioral aide in 2006 and continued to work with Taylor as a respite provider and now as a job coach for his self directed program. She has nine clients she serves ranging from age 6 to 24 years old. Her clearly spoken directions and insistence of a response and following the rules has helped her clients reduce behaviors and learn new tasks they could not do before. She believes in helping them to learn how to make decisions and realize the consequences of those decisions. Chris is a person who insists on active participation and does not do for her clients. We are extremely proud of Christine and applaud her for the work she does, AND the decision she made to make this work her profession. If we could clone her and offer her services to others the world would be better place .
Thank you Christine and Congratulations
JOSHUA HINKSON Nominated by Erica Ploof
Josh and Conner met during the summer of 2012 when Conner attended Camp Haavago through the Resource Center. Josh was assigned to be Conner’s primary support. After returning home, Josh began working with Conner at our home and in the community. In the five years since, Conner and Josh have become fixtures together in our community. Once or twice a week the pair can be found at: Friendly’s, the Leominster Library, at the playground shooting hoops, the grocery store, or on bigger adventures such as hiking Mt. Wachusett.
Just yesterday I received the best reason I can give for Josh’s nomination. I was returning an item at the Leominster Library and I thanked the librarian for how welcoming they are of Conner’s ongoing VHS special requests. Her reply was “We love Conner. And that young man who brings him in [Josh] is wonderful with him. He really treats him like a friend.”
IZZY VEGA Nominated by JASON FREILICH
Izzy teaches classes and leads community trips at Seven Hills ASPIRE program. Izzy has many good qualities. Last semester I took a self advocacy class. He was able to sense and help clarify what the other crazy teacher was saying. In my computer class, he figured out right away that I didn’t know how to use the computer and found a typing program that I liked. I know using a computer is a good job skill and that’s why Izzy wants me to learn as much as I can. During indoor games class I showed Izzy that I could play chess. And he took a special interest to play chess with me. And share strategies. He is very patient and this has started a special bond between us. This semester there is a Chess Class so we can teach others how to play.
Izzy is good at planning community trips he is organized and has good time management skills he gives me all the information I need which makes me feel less anxious and more in control . At the YMCA, we work out together. This is a real life workout and he coaches me on the machines and I write down the exercise, reps and weight. I’m not sure how many people would take such an interest in me, but Izzy has. He’s my personal trainer and a really good guy who makes a difference in my life. I just wanted to tell him that.
OUTSTANDING STATE EMPLOYEE
DR JANET GEORGE Nominated by SUE LORING
Each year we ask parents to nominate individuals who have made a difference in their child’s life or in their own lives. Often we hear of wonderful teachers, aides, therapists, coaches and neighbors who go above and beyond to improve the lives of those they touch. Each and every story brings joy and hope to those who hear it.
Each year the Center also nominates an individual who has made a significant impact on the lives of those affected by autism. This year we are honoring someone who probably isn’t a household name in the homes of our families. But her work has made their lives better, easier and more hopeful.
For twenty years Dr. Janet George has worked behind the scenes helping to effect policy change, coordinating treatment across state departments for the multitude of individuals who are affected by both autism and mental health disorders, and has overseen the implementation of waivers and the operation of the seven Autism Support Centers.
She draws on her expertise and knowledge to help shape services that will be beneficial , utilized and welcomed by families and individuals on the spectrum. Her knowledge is expansive and on a core level, as we in the autism community like to say “SHE GETS IT!” Her knowledge is only exceeded by her heart which is full of compassion and care for all that she serves.
Too often those behind the scenes are not known, or acknowledged. It gives me great pleasure to rectify that tonight.
Thank You Janet.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING FOUNDATION
DCU FOR KIDS FOUNDATION Nominated by The Gala Committee
I will never forget the day that a check for $10,000 dollars arrived in our mailbox in 2009. It was from the DCU for Kids Foundation. Cheryl Chan and I were like kids on Christmas morning, jumping up and down and squealing! This was the first time we’d received a grant! Since then DCU for Kids has donated over $115,000 to HMEA’s Autism Resource Center making it possible for us to expand our activities to include Camp Havvago, and to send a number of older kids to Camp Starfish’s LEADERS Program. DCU for Kids’ generosity has also funded numerous family fun activities through the years making it possible for families to connect with each other in natural environments, creating the shared memories that are the foundation of the friendships that sustain us on our journey. Thank You DCU for Kids !