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3 TTF Kiddos Showing Some MTX Heart

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“Sportsmanship is when you walk off the floor and no one can tell if you won or lost, you carry yourself with pride either way.” This is the quote that first greets you when you visit the website for MTX Cheerleading. MTX stands for Manheim Township Competition and for the last few years this wonderful group has had a cheer squad made entirely of special needs individuals. Their mission reads: “Our mission is to give girls the opportunity to cheer at a competitive level while building their self esteem, honesty and integrity. We also encourage girls to work toward a goal of reaching their full potential as an individual and team; not only in cheerleading, but in all aspects of their lives.”

Interestingly enough The Tommy Foundation is proud to have 3 of its kiddos involved with this group and not all of them are girls. One is the very first boy on the squad, Cameron. Cameron’s mom, Val said that her inspiration to get Cameron involved with this group first came to her from observing his interests and motivations and thinking that perhaps this would be a good way to get him to be a part of a team! “My son Cameron has high functioning autism. He is 8 years old. He loves to dance and recite movie and TV show characters. When we would go football games Cam would get worked up but really focus on the cheerleaders. So when I heard about this special-needs, cheer-squad called MTX I was like hmmm wonder if Cam would like this. Well he loves it. There has been so many challenges we have overcome or its gotten easier for him because of this. He feels like part of a team and loves his couches too.”

Like the wonderful, precocious little dude he is, when asked what he likes about cheering Cam simply says “I like being ‘THE MAN’ when I cheer.”

Two of our other kiddos involved in the program, who have been involved for the last few years are Jennifer and Madison. Jennifer likes MTX Cheerleading because of the opportunities it has given her socially to make friends. She states that, “I love cheerleading. I make great friends and I like the music and dancing.” Her younger sister Madison likes the feeling of accomplishment she gets from the program. “I love being a part of a wonderful team because they all get to be special and do their own little parts which combine together to make up the team!”

MTX Heart has been a wonderful addition to programs and services provided in our local community to give our children a sense of pride, accomplishment and inclusion. For more information you can visit their website at:

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Fulton Theatre Sensory Friendly Program – The Nutcracker

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Sensory Friendly symbol is now used for identifying a sensory friendly production.

Sensory Friendly symbol is now used for identifying a sensory friendly production.

Many families in Lancaster got a chance to enjoy a sensory friendly production of the holiday favorite “The Nutcracker” on Saturday, January 3rd, 2015. For many of them, this experience was the first time their loved one was able to attend a theater performance. Many of the children there had autism and/or other conditions where sights, sounds, and other sensory stimuli might otherwise prohibit the individual from attending a theater performance ordinarily.

The Tommy Foundation President, Sugey Cruz-Everts, recently accepted a post on the Fulton Theatre’s Advisory Committee for at least the next 2 years. With this new role she hopes to be able to highlight the needs of individuals in the community that have sensory challenges and help them enjoy more of these kinds of productions with the eventual hope that they will develop a love of theater and the performing arts. TTF is excited to offer their support to the Fulton and the Committee’s founder, Jennifer Ridgeway, in this manner and looks forward to future productions.

Families that participated in this event received a social story about attending the theater; were able to request specific seating that made their experience better; could come an hour before the performance and feel some of the props, get to meet some of the actors, do crafts and activities that were supplied by Schreiber Pediatrics Rehabilitation Center and much more.  Children also received ‘fidgets’ (small toys that they could use in case they had anxiety to shake or play with) and were able to use the sensory room that was set up at the Fulton at any time that it might be necessary if they were overwhelmed.

For more information about future productions please contact the Fulton or contact us.

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Autism Community Focus – First of 2015

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Happy New Year! One of our goals in 2015 is to bring our community more stories about families within our community and things that are important to them.  Our first story of the new year is a deeply personal one for us because it involves two girls that we have seen grow up over the last 6 years—Abbie and Allie.  Off the bat, one of the things to note is that while autism is thought to typically affect boys 4X as much as girls, both of the girls are on the autism spectrum and at varying degrees.  Their mom, Kim Shank, is our Director of Autism Support Services and an Occupational therapist by profession working with kiddos in Early Intervention (Birth to 3).  Both mom and dad are committed to helping out our community in meaningful ways and are often seen taking time out of their super busy schedules to give back and make sure that they can reach as many families and individuals as possible. 

About 2 1/2 years ago now, one of the biggest leaps of faith for the couple came when they opened their hearts and home to strangers—college students—to come play with their daughters and start to form some kind of a bond with them.  At the time, The Tommy Foundation, had always had a presence at Franklin and Marshall College via internship and community programs, but we chose to further that by creating an actual college club on the campus called Students for Autism, where students can choose to either raise awareness about the condition or be more engaged by working in varying ways directly with individuals and their families in the community.

One of the buddies assigned to the Shank family was Julia, an international student who is interested in becoming a doctor.  Julia knew—at the time—almost nothing about autism other than what she’d read about in books or seen on tv or movies.  Kim recently reflected on her first encounter with Julia: The first time Julia came to our home, it was like watching magic happen. Our oldest daughter, Abbie, generally takes awhile to warm up to people. She does not enjoy tickles and lots of stimulation like many other kids do. Julia came to visit, and her gentle and calm presence allowed Abbie to get comfortable with her, it was almost like Abbie picked Julia to be her buddy. She took her by the hand and led her to curl up and play on the iPad. They just had such a connection! We are so thankful for her and her beautiful spirit. It is obvious that she genuinely cares about Abbie and Allie, and tries to use herself to help them both feel comfortable and calm. She has helped us at home, as well as to enjoy various Tommy Foundation activities.

Originally, since both girls are on the spectrum, the idea was that each girl had their own ‘buddy’ that worked with them and could also provide a friendly face or help to a child that needed the extra boost at our events.  Interestingly enough these girls that often find warming up to new people a little challenging actually fell in love with their own and the other’s buddy so they all work like a team now.  Julia has certainly become part of the family and loves to be with both girls. Kim added that

“Our youngest daughter, Alaina, is full of energy, and loves interaction and direction. She loves affection and stimulation. So we really have very opposite ends of the spectrum under our roof. Julia adjusts her affect to meet the needs of both our girls.” 

As an observer and supervisor for the interaction, I (Sugey) have had the joy of seeing this wonderful relationship grow over the last 2 years. It totally warms my heart to see that bond get stronger and stronger with each new visit and event we do with the family.  Julia reflected on her experience and had this to share: 

“Working with Abby and Allie has been incredibly rewarding and fun. Seeing as they warmed up to me and opened up over time was amazing. Every time I see them I get to see their improvements and growth, the new games they play, new ways they interact with each other and what their unbelievable imagination will come up with this time! I also learn a lot about the girls thanks to Kim and Dan; their input and advise is incredibly helpful. They are simply amazing, and I am so thankful they let me into the girls’ life!”

For more information about Students for Autism at F&M College or if you are interested in our buddy program or ways to get your civic groups more involved with the community please contact us.