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"The Greatest Experience of My Life" by Anthony Ianni

The Kids & Dreams Foundation was blessed to have Anthony Ianni come to Nebraska in March for a three day “Relentless Tour”.  Anthony has autism, was bullied at a young age and his parents were told that he would barely graduate high school and end up in a group home with others that have autism. Boy, did he prove them wrong! Not only did Anthony go to college, but he went to his dream college…..Michigan State University! And to take it a step further…Anthony played basketball for Coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans! He was a part of conference titles and a Final Four!  He was living his dream!  After he graduated, Anthony decided to start sharing his life experiences and message of hope as he now travels the nation talking with students and communities.

During our tour with Anthony, we were able to visit ten schools, one college (University of Nebraska Kearney) and have a “Heroes-Hoops-Hope” charity basketball game with some former Nebraska football players to help raise awareness for our mission. Overall, we were able to reach around 5,300 individuals with Anthony’s message of HOPE and challenging everyone to “LIVE YOUR DREAM”! It was a true honor to get to meet Anthony and work with him on this tour. He was gracious enough to even write a post for us to use during Autism Awareness Month in April. CHECK IT OUT………

"Being a motivational speaker, I love to tell people about my past experiences dealing with the challenges of overcoming obstacles and becoming the first known person with autism to play college basketball. I’m currently in the midst of my motivational speaking career, where I’m traveling all over the country. I’m so proud to be able to share my message with kids across the state and the country.

But all of this didn’t happen overnight. I was told at age five by doctors and specialists that I would barely graduate high school, wouldn’t go to college, and wouldn’t be a skilled athlete because I had autism. My college experience as a student-athlete dealing with autism is one that I wouldn’t have traded for anything. Throughout my life, I had difficulties in school because of the way I struggled with words, nouns, verbs, idioms, and even sarcasm.  So my biggest concern when I got to college was how I would do in the classroom and where I would get the help I needed. I had a great deal of resources that were available to me and I took advantage of them right away because I was determined to graduate and get my degree. The test accommodations I had were for extended time on tests, a reader, and a separate room to take my tests in. Because of these accommodations I was able to be a better test taker than I was in my early school years. I also had tutors that really helped me a lot when it came to the different class subjects I had to take during my time at Michigan State University.

The Student Athlete Support Services (SASS) at MSU was a great help for me. They provided me tutoring services and also held weekly progress meetings to see how I was doing in class. The services I had at MSU were one of the reasons why I was able to graduate from one of the toughest universities in the state of Michigan.

The second part of my college experience was being an athlete. I was blessed to be able to play for the best basketball program in the country and the best coach in college basketball today in Coach Tom Izzo.  I walked on the team for two years until my senior year when my dream and goal was realized. Coach Izzo awarded me a full ride scholarship my senior year. I was so happy to see what all of my hard work did for me. I always like to share my father’s quote that he gave me as a kid with every person I speak to around the state and country: “The harder you work, the more you earn.” This quote inspired me to become the person I am today. I had to work hard for everything I’ve earned in my life and every day in practice because I was the leader/captain of our scout team. We had to be at practice an hour before and after to learn every play that our opponents ran.

I went to battle with my teammates every day with the goal of making them better. But off the court, all of those guys are my brothers and Spartan Family.  They knew what I was dealing with all my life. They helped me a lot and they also helped me grow a lot as a person as well. I mentioned earlier how sarcasm was one thing I really struggle with. Being on a team of guys who were the kings of sarcasm, it was difficult at times to understand things. If I couldn’t tell if somebody was joking or being serious, my teammates would either tell me or pull me aside and explain to me what they were talking about or if somebody was joking or not. I love my teammates and still keep in touch with them today. Keep in mind a lot of those guys are either in the NBA or playing professional basketball overseas.

My college experience is again something I wouldn’t trade for the world. The support services and help I got were one of the main reasons why I was able to be successful in college. However, it was the great support and help I got from my coaches and teammates that helped me strive towards success at Michigan State. All of this is why I never gave up on my dream of being a college athlete despite having autism and overcoming huge challenges and obstacles. More importantly though, I’m proud of being a MSU alum and I am very proud to say I’m a Spartan for life."

Thank you Anthony for your support and making a difference in the lives of the students and communities that you reach! You are an inspiration and we are grateful for your help in Nebraska as we continue to raise awareness about autism and bullying!

We hope that you will join Anthony and the Kids & Dreams Foundation as we continue to “DREAM BIG!”

 

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The Kids & Dreams Family-What It Means To Us......

As a parent of a special needs child, I am very passionate about doing what I can to help my son progress and enjoy his childhood like other kids. I am extremely proud to introduce another parent who feels the same way. Her name is Amy Sjoholm. She is on our board, has volunteered at a number of events including our camp and is a huge part of our bullying program including speaking to students. She is very dedicated to making a difference! We are grateful that Amy is a part of the Kids & Dreams family! Check out what she had to say about the foundation and why she is a part of our mission……..

“I wanted to be a part of the Kids & Dreams Foundation because of my son, Peyton, whom was diagnosed at age 9 with Autism.  He is my inspiration to help others that have been impacted by autism and have been bullied.  What I want others to know is that people that have autism just want acceptance and understanding the way that we all do.  I hope to inspire people, through the foundation, to treat everyone with kindness and respect and to honor people and their differences.  It is also important to me to bring resources to Nebraska for families and children on the autism spectrum. Providing opportunities through our “Operation Shine Camp” for children on the spectrum has been the most impactful way to do this.  I hope that we will continue to educate others and provide continued services in our state.”

Thanks so much Amy for your time, help and dedication. It is truly appreciated!

Together WE WILL make a difference!

We hope you will join Amy and the foundation family to continue to….”DREAM BIG!”

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The Kids & Dreams Family-What It Means To Us

The Kids & Dreams Foundation is always looking for unique ways to provide support to children and families that are experiencing autism and bullying.  To do this, we need individuals that are passionate, dedicated and want to make a difference. We would like to introduce you to one of those people……Levi Rogers is on our board, has volunteered at a number of events including our camp and oversees the foundation website and any IT issues. We are grateful that Levi is a part of the Kids & Dreams family! Check out what Levi had to say about the foundation and why he is a part of our mission……..

"I have always felt strongly that we should help children that need our help, even to the point that I feel it is our responsibility as performing members of society to participate in helping those children that require additional care.  My working relationship and friendship with Aaron Bly introduced me to the Kids & Dreams Foundation. Because of this, I was able to volunteer at the First Annual Operation Shine summer camp for kids on the Autism Spectrum last year.  I was blown away by the connection I felt with the kids! The most exciting thing was watching the children interact and grow as individuals.  As a new parent myself, I was happy to help provide an experience that was as beneficial for the parents as the child.  After the camp was over I knew that I wanted to be more involved with the foundation.  I am fortunate enough to be able to help the Kids & Dreams Foundation in its mission.  I hope to help the foundation bring joy and relief to the children and families that we work with."

Thanks so much Levi for your time, help and dedication. Together WE WILL make a difference.

We hope you will join Levi and the foundation family to continue to….”DREAM BIG!”

 

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Autism Awareness Month

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, the Kids & Dreams Foundation will be sharing some testimonials this month of some families we have worked with, volunteers and others that have partnered with our organization. Below is a testimony from a parent that we had the honor to work with last year.........

"Without knowing us....just talking time to read a letter from a beloved family friend. Aaron Bly and his awesome organization made my sons dreams come true! All our Autistic son Shane wanted for his high school graduation was to go to a Luke Bryan concert. I had gotten him tickets of course. Luke's music helped Shane relax and calm him. Aaron and The Kids and Dreams Foundation took it further than our dreams could imagine. They, with the help of others, arranged for Shane to meet Luke Bryan back stage...minds blown, and almost a year later, Shane still has a smile on his face. He shows the picture of him and Luke to everyone he meets. The special part was Aaron and his team were just as excited as we were. Hope to some day meet these great people and help them make more dreams come true! We are in Wisconsin and following them help so many kids who are Different, but not less....DREAMS DO COME TRUE!"

The foundation was just as excited as Shane was when he was able to meet his idol and someone that helps him calm down when he gets upset. We continue to do what we can to help individuals and families that are experiencing autism and bullying. We hope that you will continue to "DREAM BIG" with us! 

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Uprise Design

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Uprise Design

A big thanks to Uprise Tshirts for being a gold sponsor for the Heroes, Hoops, and Hope event. We feel so grateful to partner with such a wonderful sponsor. With the support of Uprise Tshirts we are pleased to bring the former Husker players to Central Nebraska. This sponsorship is helping us spread the incredible message provided by Anthony Ianni as we continue to educate and raise awareness about Bullying and Autism.

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Exchange Bank

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Exchange Bank

A big thanks to Exchange Bank for being a gold sponsor for the Heroes, Hoops, and Hope event.  We feel so grateful to partner with such a wonderful sponsor.  With the support of Exchange Bank we are pleased to bring the former Husker players to Central Nebraska.  This sponsorship is helping us spread the incredible message provided by Anthony Ianni as we continue to educate and raise awareness about Bullying and Autism.

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Wagoner/Stoka Families

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Wagoner/Stoka Families

A big thanks to Wagoner/Stoka Families for being a gold sponsor for the Heroes, Hoops, and Hope event.  We feel so grateful to partner with such a wonderful sponsor.  With the support of Wagoner/Stoka Families we are pleased to bring the former Husker players to Central Nebraska.  This sponsorship is helping us spread the incredible message provided by Anthony Ianni as we continue to educate and raise awareness about Bullying and Autism.

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Cornerstone Bank

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Cornerstone Bank

A big thanks to Cornerstone Bank for being a gold sponsor for the Heroes, Hoops, and Hope event.  We feel so grateful to partner with such a wonderful sponsor.  With the support of Cornerstone Bank we are pleased to bring the former Husker players to Central Nebraska. 

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Gangwish Seed Farms

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope & Gangwish Seed Farms

A big thanks to Gangwish Seed Farms for being a gold sponsor for the Heroes, Hoops, and Hope event.  We feel so grateful to partner with such a wonderful sponsor.  With the support of Gangwish Seed Farms we are pleased to bring the former Husker players to Central Nebraska. 

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Heroes, Hoops, and Hope

A big thanks to our sponsors:  LaserTec of Nebraska, Brad Rasmussen Contruction, Finney's, Schroeder Machine Shop, Willis Repair, Motor Inn Bar & Grill, Victorian Inn (Superior, NE), Woodman Drilling & Irrigation, K&K Convenience Store

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Operation Shine - End of Day 2

What an incredible day.  

Thanks again to our volunteers and sponsors.  This type of event can't happen without your help. 

See you tomorrow morning for more from Operation Shine.

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Operation Shine - On to the Evening

After a great day of activity we are excited about starting our evening activities.  On the list tonight:

  • Themed evening (Super Heroes)
    • Photo Booth, Strong Man,Contest, Balloon Cortex, Obstacle Course
    • Closing with Music

Thanks to our Volunteers for another great day.  Parents, Family and Friends follow us on twitter @kidsanddreams for a few more updates of the evening activities.

Thanks to our supporters for the donations that help make this possible.  We will try and update more tomorrow on Twitter and Facebook.

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Operation Shine Update - Day 2 Afternoon #operationshine

We will be live tweeting the events all afternoon.  After a wonderful morning we are excited to get back to the days activities.  Below are a series of pictures from our Princesses and Pirates event on Day 1.  

Afternoon activities include Swimming, SnoCones, Archery, Lawn Bowling, and a variety of other games.

EVENING - SUPERHERO NIGHT!

Please follow us on twitter @kidsanddreams

#operationshine

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Operation Shine - Day 2 Activities

A list of upcoming activities for Day 2 of Operation Shine.  Also some pictures from day 1.

  • Exotic Animal Petting Zoo - Morning
  • Swimming, Fishing, Game Time
  • Yard Bowling, Archery, Kickball
  • Marble Painting Craft

We will post updates throughout the day.

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AUTISM SHOULD NOT STOP INDIVIDUALS FROM SETTING THEIR GOALS.....HIGH!

As Autism Awareness Month comes to an end, the Kids & Dreams Foundation has really tried to share the facts, stats and symptoms that children on the spectrum have. The other hope we have is to show everyone that individuals that are experiencing autism shouldn’t stop setting their goals HIGH!

Thanks to a friend on our Facebook page that brought this article to my attention (written by John Lauritsen from WCCO-TV), I would like to introduce you to Ben Cousins. Ben is a college student at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. He has autism and wrestles at the Division III school.

Things didn’t start out great for Ben. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half. By 5th grade, he weighed about 200 pounds and says that his autism caused him to act out and struggle in school. He even struggled with sensory issues that made him scared of physical touch (which makes this story even more impressive!).

Around the age of 11, he decided to get into exercising more. He would ride an exercise bike for 10 minutes a night and have his mom watch as he did 180 sit-ups a night. As he got older, he decided to go out for wrestling. He was good at it! He set a goal to qualify for the state tournament. His senior year he accomplished that goal!

He did so well in high school, he was recruited to wrestle at Concordia. He took his lumps and had to adjust, but set another goal (or more like a DREAM). He was focused on qualifying for the Division III National Tournament. Well, this year, during his junior season wrestling at 157 pounds, he accomplished that goal….DREAM!

Ben had a great experience at the national tournament even though he lost both of his matches. He wants his accomplishments to encourage parents who have kids with autism to never give up! He said, “They will love themselves more and they will love everyone around them more, because they have the confidence in themselves and they will be very good at what they do.”

Ben’s mom states…”Autism is not an embarrassment for Ben anymore. It’s something where he is proud to say he has autism.”

Ben’s ultimate DREAM…….winning a national title next year during his last collegiate season! Good luck Ben! We will be cheering you on from Nebraska!

Another incredible story about a young individual with autism that has done great things. Our mission at the foundation continues to be a positive influence for families and provide support & resources for them to help their children reach their full potential in life! Together we WILL make a difference and see more stories like the one about Ben! Continue to “DREAM BIG!”

Information from this story was provided by John Lauritsen from WCCO-TV and the link below…..

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/04/04/minnesota-wrestler-beats-autism-qualifies-for-national-tournament/

#autism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams #500forautism

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BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, BE POSITIVE, THEN.....PASS IT ON!

As we continue to spread awareness about autism and get close to the end of April and Autism Awareness Month, it got me to thinking. I know, I know….that can be a dangerous thing. Our mission is to help provide support to children and families experiencing autism and bullying, BUT it is much more than that! We want to be the glimmer of light for those children and families that are having a real tough time with the issues in their lives and are struggling to stay positive and realize there is HOPE!

I have thought of two stories I would like to share with you in relation to some of these thoughts. The first story is in no way related to the seriousness of what families that are experience autism and bullying are going through, but it really opened my eyes to not listen to the negative talk of others. I was a freshmen at Spalding Public Schools. We had just moved to town that year. My dream since I was five was to play in the State Basketball Tournament. The same one that my dad and I would go to every year since I could walk. Our basketball season (if you haven’t figured it out yet, I love sports and have my dad to thank for that passion!) was not going real well. We were 5-8 going into districts. We played a lot of close games during the year and peaked during districts, winning three in a row and became district CHAMPS!!! I was fortunate enough to be able to start at point guard as a freshmen and had a great group of guys to play with. My DREAM was coming true…we were headed to STATE! I was beyond excited.

The first round we play Wallace, a team that was like 18-2 or something. We were huge underdogs. We won by about 20 and the dream continued. It was AWESOME! One of the smallest schools in the state at that time was in the semifinals. The next game we played Hildreth. All I remember about that game was they were an older team (we started 1 senior, 1 junior, 2 sophomores and myself) and big! We played hard, but came up short. We lost by about 20……I would say the dream ended, but really it was an incredible experience!

Now to the point of the story……as I was being replaced late in that game I headed to our bench. As I approached our coach, I heard a fan scream, “Bly, you stink (may have used worse words J), get off the floor!” I have played in numerous games and I am sure other fans yelled stuff at me when I didn’t play well. Yet, this is the ONLY situation that I remember one of my own fans yelling at me that stood out that much (it’s been over 25 years ago). I could have let that destroy my focus, attitude and desire to become a better player, but my dad continued to teach me not to worry what others are saying and DO MY BEST! That fueled my fire and helped me work harder so to whoever said that at the Pershing Center in 1988…thank you! However, that is not the case in some situations. As a parent now, it reminds me that we need to build up our kids, be positive with them and when they find something they love and are passionate about….tell them to DREAM BIG!

The second story has to do with my son Trae. Many of you know that he didn’t walk or talk until he was 2 ½ years old. He had many doctor’s appointments and other issues that we have worked through and are working on. Several years ago, we had a doctor tell us that “Trae was the way he was” and we would just have to be okay with that! Ummm…..NO! We were not fine with that comment and found a new doctor shortly after that appointment. Plus, we started researching and finding resources that could help our son progress and start developing more. He has come so far!! If we would have listened to that doctor who knows where Trae would be at socially, academically and physically. I know one thing….he wouldn’t be as far along as he is today! We had and still have goals and dreams for Trae and all four of our other children. We want them to be happy, find something they are passionate about and do their best to reach their goals & dreams! The “DREAM BIG” motto is special to me because of my family. The Kids & Dreams Foundation and helping others reach their dreams is just icing on the cake!

The purpose of this post is to see if you will join us in believing in yourself, BE POSITIVE…then pass that on to your children or others around you just like my parents have done for me as I grew up! It is easy to be negative, but staying positive takes some work and is SO rewarding when you help others!! I truly believe that families need to know that there is always hope and anything can happen. The foundation is in place to help these families try to find that hope and any resources or options that will help see their child progress and reach their full potential in life!

I want to finish by introducing you to another individual that has done great things after being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in the third grade. Her name is Sarah Lonsert. She became the youngest songwriter to win the USA Songwriter Competition in 2009 at the age of 17. After winning that award, she released her own album, acted on stage and in films.

Keep believing, have a positive attitude and PASS IT ON!

Link used for the story above is http://specialeducation.answers.com/teaching-strategies/8-successful-people-with-autism-spectrum-disorders

#dreambig #believe #autism #awareness #kidsanddreams #staypositive 

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KIDS & DREAMS CAMP-SAFETY & FUN IS FOCUS.....THANKS TO TRAE!

“Operation Shine”….We are really excited about our upcoming camp on June 5-7, 2015 at the Covenant Cedars Camp near Hordville, NE! The camp is for kids ages 7-12 that are experiencing autism, Fragile X, Angelmen’s Syndrome and Down Syndrome. The camp will consist of a two night stay, a number of fun activities (swimming, fishing, arts/crafts, sensory obstacle course, etc.), and two “theme nights” where everyone will dress up. The theme nights will consist of “Superheroes” and “Pirates & Princesses”. We are even having the Exotic Paradise Pet Farm come out to the camp to show some unique animals to the children. It is going to be a BLAST!!

If you have a child that you would like to send to our camp, please let us know. We would love to have them and still have some spots open. We are limiting the number of campers to 30 this first year. We are also still looking for volunteers!! If you know of anyone that is interested, please have them contact us. We have an incredible group of volunteers so far and want to continue to get that total number of volunteers to around 70 if possible.

Like I said in the title, our main goals are for the kids to have FUN and the time of their life, but SAFETY is an area we are taking very serious. We want the parents and families of these children to know that we are trying to put as much stuff in place for the kids to be safe in all aspects of the camp. Below is a list of what the camp will provide for each camper in regards to keeping them safe…..

·       Each camper will have at least one 1-on-1 “Dream Big” Camper

·       All staff & volunteers will have received training in the specific disorders that will be present at this camp

·       There will be nursing staff on site 24/7 & we hope to have an on-call doctor as well

·       There will be 2 mental health therapists on site 24/7 along with other trained professional                                          volunteers on the campgrounds

·       All cabins have full bathroom facilities, handicap accessible

·       Each cabin will have a big camper sleeping in front of the door so access out of the cabin is extremely limited due to the erratic sleeping patterns of the children.

·       We will have staff up through the night monitoring the cabins to ensure that everyone is safe and no children leave the cabins unattended.

·       We have created a camp social story for the kids and their parents to help ease any concerns either may have. That story can be found on our website on the “Operation Shine” Camp page.

·       We will have at least ONE Sensory Room for the kids to access if they become overstimulated or need to take a break

My family knows firsthand the need for safety especially during the overnight hours due to the lack of consistent sleeping patterns for kids on the autism spectrum. Trae’s sleeping patterns are not consistent and he recently has started to get up in the middle of the night and sneak downstairs to play on the computer, DS or do other things without us knowing.  Just the other morning, we found him already up as we were starting to get everyone ready for school. We tried to figure out what he had been up to, but didn’t have time to really focus on that…..until a report from school came.  We received word that he had fallen asleep in art (the school and us thought he may not feel good since we had two other kids home sick).  This was a FIRST for him at school…thankfully! HA!

So, the story continues…….Trae gets home and Kerri checks his planner for the day. It states that Trae told his teachers/paras that he was up really early on the computer. Kerri asked him if he was and he said “YES” and that he was driving the bus on the ipad (games he really likes!). So Kerri checks, and sure enough, ALL the bus games are open on the ipad and the battery is at 9%. He had buried the ipad under a pile of stuff around the computer so we wouldn’t find it or think he had it. He is very smart and starting to be really sneaky.

I am telling you this story only to let you all know that we ARE taking this camp very SERIOUS in regards to the kids safety! Being a parent of a child with autism, I understand the worry and concern parents might have about sending their child to the camp. We hope the many steps we have started to put in place will allow you to feel more comfortable about having your child attend our camp and allow them to have an INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE!

Our motto for the camp is “You cannot blend in…..when you’re meant to SHINE!” We truly feel that each child that attends the camp will be able to do just that!

I want to end this post with introducing you to another individual who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and has went on to do great things. Her name is Heather Kuzmich. She is a fashion model and was a contestant on the reality show “America’s Next Top Model” in 2007. She finished in 5th place on the show and was voted as the viewer’s favorite 8 weeks in a row. She spoke about her decision to join the show, “It was a point in my life where I was thinking either Asperger’s was going to define me or I was going to be able to work around it. At first I was really worried people would laugh at me because I was so very awkward. I got the exact opposite.” When asked about her time growing up, she said “I was at the bottom of the totem pole. I wanted to be a role model for girls who aren’t the most popular and are picked on.”

Another great story of overcoming your fears and worries and setting your goals high! The Kids & Dreams Foundation will continue to “DREAM BIG” for those children and families we come in contact with and hope we can be a role model for individuals needing support, resources or other options. Together we WILL make a difference!

Links used for the story on Heather Kuzmich include the story on “These 8 Inspiring People Will Change The Way You Think About Autism And Asperger’s”- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/12/autism-celebrities-aspergers_n_4427196.html

#autism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams #operationshine #500forautism

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