Beignet Fest Organizers Help Create, Fund Online Support Program for Special Needs Families
NEW ORLEANS (press release) – With support from Beignet Fest presenting sponsor, French Market Coffee, the Tres Doux Foundation awarded $15,000 in grants this month to two local nonprofits: Families Helping Families NOLA ($10,000) and the Autism Society of Greater New Orleans ($5,000). Proceeds from this summer’s Beignet Fest at Their Place helped pave the way to making grants possible during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a critical time where organizations serving special needs families are seeing more need than ever.
In addition to the grant to Families Helping Families NOLA, Beignet Fest organizers worked with the nonprofit agency to envision and create a new online support program, leveraging clinical expertise from Touchstone ABA, a leading autism therapy provider in the Gulf South.
“Without a major festival to plan this fall, we put our heads together with partners to create something new for families in our community,” said Sherwood Collins, festival founder and foundation executive director. “I know from firsthand experience with my son that problems facing families who have children with autism have only intensified during the pandemic with dramatic changes in routines. Juggling the demands of distance learning, along with loss of employment, healthcare benefits, after-school programs and more has been extremely difficult for many. We’re grateful to French Market Coffee who honored their financial commitment to our efforts; it put us in a position to make this happen.”
Families Helping Families NOLA was figuring out how they might offer more support virtually when the Tres Doux Foundation approached them.
“We had explored the idea of holding an online training series or support group of some kind but we had not moved on it due to the overwhelming immediate needs — working with families to address navigating distance learning and the closure of programs,” said Aisha Johnson, executive director of Families Helping Families NOLA. “Sherwood and his wife, Amy, stepped in and helped us put all the pieces in place to make it happen. The grant they awarded our agency on top of that was truly a godsend!”
Touchstone ABA, a Thibodaux-owned and operated autism services provider, had supported Beignet Fest over the last three years, with a presence in the festival’s resource area. Operational and Clinical Coordinator Dr. Tricia Clement lent the expertise to help design the online support series, providing ABA-informed practices that parents and caregivers can implement at home to help children adapt and progress in the socially distanced, COVID-19 environment.
“Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, has been used successfully to create a system for teaching new skills and helping individuals reach developmental milestones,” said Dr. Clement. “By identifying and focusing on specific behaviors in each of the online seminars, we hope parents will be able to support their children in continuing to progress and manage difficult communications challenges or changes in routine.”
The online training series will be offered to any parent struggling with old and new behaviors that their child is exhibiting. There is no cost to participate. The series will cover three main areas: 1) getting the most from virtual learning, 2) managing behaviors during extended time at home and 3) helping with homework.
During the sessions, clinical specialists from Touchstone will focus on providing parents and caregivers with knowledge on behavioral concepts and strategies to maximize a child’s success and improve quality of life. Registered parents will also receive an ABA trainer-recommended book and follow up from the Families Helping Families staff. The first 50 registered families will receive Sensory Friendly Toolkits that will have complimentary French Market Coffee and stress balls for parents, as well as soothing tools and toys for children.
“We decided to call this new program Coffee Conversations because we want it to be as comforting to people as sitting with a friend over a cup of coffee and talking through solutions for their children’s needs,” said Collins.
In addition to the program with Families Helping Families, the Tres Doux Foundation awarded a grant to the Autism Society of Greater New Orleans (ASGNO) to enhance the nonprofit organization’s existing online social groups. The grant will underwrite the cost of a professional facilitator for virtual groups for individuals on the autism spectrum in varying age groups from pre-teen to adult.
“In the past we struggled to deliver our social groups consistently because we had to depend on volunteers to facilitate the sessions,” said Dr. Lisa Settles, ASGNO President. “Now with this grant from the Tres Doux Foundation, we’re able to hire someone to keep our regular clients engaged and offer opportunities to new individuals who want to try out the groups.”
It’s still unclear what 2021 will bring in terms of a festival for Beignet Fest organizers, but they remain committed to the mission of raising awareness and support for local families with autism and those organizations that serve them.