We've been through a lot, this friend and I. His son, a year younger than my Grace, was diagnosed about six months after I first heard the word "autism," or at least officially in connection to my daughter. Soon, a friend who began helping us, began telling me about a co-worker of her then-husband whose son was also recently diagnosed with autism. Finally, I met that co-worker of my friend's husband. I met John Shouse in a narrow, long hallway-like observation room as we both said behind two way mirrors--him facing one direction, me the other, our children in the rooms behind the respective directions we both faced, each receiving either speech/language or occupational therapy. John wasn't a happy camper that day. I couldn't get him to talk much to me. But soon, we began a friendship that has lasted all these 16 going on 17 years since then. John's grief turned to passionate advocacy for his son and others. We've both experienced a lot of highs and lows on the autism parent journey and the additional thread that kept us at least remotely connected was our volunteer work for the local autism society. I admire my friend John for many things: his ability to cut through the bull. For his compassion in action. For the inumberable ways he (and his wife, Janet,) have stepped up to the volunteer plate again and again, often at great personal sacrifice, to lead our autism community locally, state-wide and nationally. John is a die-hard volunteer.
John is also many other things. And the word "renaissance" is a good start to explaining just how many. He lives in Nashville, so, of course, he plays a guitar and I imagine crafts a song lyric or two. He's a dang good writer. The kind of which this writer is a bit envious. I have urged him to write a book for years. To start a blog. (He did co-author this book, and I hope he'll compile his personal essays about his life with his son in another book someday. It will be a lump-in-your-throat kinda read from a loving, tremendously involved father's perspective.) Finally, John did start a blog and I'm sharing bits of a recent post of it with you today because it's so right-on. I hope you'll click through and read how volunteering has blessed John (and me) and the many who have been on the receiving end of his service and also those who have served alongside with him. And, yes, he tells in the blog post more about that service. I hope, too, that you'll be inspired to make a difference with some local nonprofit in your community.
Thank you for being you, John. Thank you for writing. For serving. It is an honor to call you friend.
Some excerpts from John's post:
"Here’s what I’ve come to know. For families affected by autism, positive changes come most often as a result of family-to-family, person-to-person local connection and through the passion and dedication of local volunteers, local organizations, and local professionals.
[...] "It lies in the heart and soul of local organizations and the dedicated, knowledgeable, and tender-hearted people who do “the work,” quietly and powerfully helping to change the life of one individual and one family at a time. When they share their stories with you, and you share yours with them, it’s a sacred trust, not to be taken lightly. Our responsibility is to honor that trust, first by loving the people you encounter in “the work” as completely and genuinely as possible. And then, we further honor that trust by using those stories to bring about even more changed lives.
"THAT is the work that matters.
[...] "Above all, I know this one thing to be true: If you want to impact YOUR community, it’s going to come from the hard work and dedication of local folks just like you. Get involved. Volunteer. Worthy non profit organizations abound in the disability community right in your town, who could surely use people with a passion for their cause. You don’t have to be a board member or the president. Maybe your strength is helping organize events. Or talking to new families. Or helping someone strategize for an IEP meeting. Maybe it’s simply sitting at table and signing people in for a workshop or handing out information packets at a community fair. Maybe your calling lies in being that voice on the other end of the phone when someone new to your community just needs to talk. Whatever your passion or your particular strength, just volunteer, even if you’re not sure WHAT you have to contribute. And don’t be surprised when you find that giving of yourself in this way will also change YOUR life forever for the better."
Read the rest at: http://www.theverystuff.com/no-idea-back-then/
Leisa's note: by the way, the main local organization to which John and I refer is the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee.