Viewing entries tagged
dream big


"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!”





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…..

#autism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams #500forautism




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

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




“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”-

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



Spreading Awareness.....ONE WEEK At A Time!

This past week, the Kids & Dreams Foundation had a week that may go down as a very important stepping stone for the organization as it continues to spread awareness about autism and anti-bullying! Below is the week in review…..

Sunday-My family went and had supper with a great family that is sending their daughter to “Operation Shine”. It was so nice to meet her and the entire family! Our kids had a blast as they rode a tractor, fed goats, made s’mores and other fun activities!

Monday-The foundation prepared for the next two days of visiting schools by organizing information and printing off marketing material for the camp.

Tuesday-The pace picked up for the week. We started our journey with Rick Shaw from Awareity!

10:45 am-We had an interview with Josh Moody from the Kearney Hub about the foundation and our upcoming camp!

1:45 pm-The foundation and Rick Shaw speaks with the 4-8 grades at Shelton Public Schools about bullying and doing the right thing. The “Friend of the Foundation” Award was presented to the 4th grade. Great group of kids!

2:45 pm-Our talk continues with Shelton Public as we spoke with the 9-12 grades. Another award was presented to Nadia Pinon for her incredible act of kindness and character at a track meet earlier this year.

4:15 pm-We had another interview with John from the Hasting Tribune about the foundation and our upcoming camp! Starting to get some great publicity about the camp!!!

Wednesday-The foundation and Rick headed to Superior and Sandy Creek Public Schools for the day!                

10:15 am-We spoke with Rick to the 4-8 grades at Superior Public Schools. We are                honored to  present another “Friend of the Foundation” Award to Taran Zoltenko. He made an impression on us at our outing in February. Continuing to recognize kids doing the right thing and having a positive attitude!

11:00 am-We surprise Rick by having his parents show up and listen to him speak for the FIRST time. It was so great to see his reaction and we were honored to line that up for both him and his parents!

11:15 am-We continue our talk at Superior by speaking with the 9-12 grades. We were very impressed with the questions and interaction with all the Superior students. Plus, we handed out a large number of volunteer forms for our camp. Excellent morning!

12:15 pm-The caravan loads up and heads to Sandy Creek Public Schools.

1:00 pm-We continue our presentations by talking with the Sandy Creek 9-12 grades.

2:00 pm-Our second session of the afternoon is with the 2-5 grades. They were very interactive with great questions. We loved their reaction to a short highlight video on Jason McElwain that we were able to show at the school with their video board. They loved it!!

3:00 pm-The last session was with the 6-8 grades. It was a great way to cap off our two day, three school tour about bullying. We hope the schools and the students took away some valuable information from the presentations. We want to thank Rick Shaw so much for his time and help with this. The foundation was proud of our first efforts getting into the schools and spreading our mission! Hope to continue that next school year.

Thursday-After being on the road all day Tuesday and Wednesday, it was time for the foundation to have another “Operation Shine” Camp Committee meeting and board meeting starting at 6:00 pm. We got a ton accomplished and feel we are putting the right things in place to have a camp that will be an incredible experience for the kids and volunteers.

Friday-The foundation gets some air time! Joan Schwan, Camp Director, and I go on NTV’s Good Life to talk about the foundation and our upcoming camp at about 9:30 am. We want to thank Carol Staab and NTV for having us! We were so happy to be able to spread the word!

  10:05 am-As I am walking out of the NTV studios after our interview, we receive a call                     from a parent that wants to send their child to the camp! She had just seen us on television. Mission accomplished!

1:00 pm-We meet with a possible donor for the camp and our Autism Conference in October!

6:00 pm-Team Bly loads up and heads to Omaha for the annual Autism Walk on Saturday!

Saturday-The Kearney Hub publishes an article about the foundation and our camp! We receive a few emails about individuals wanting to volunteer! Again, getting some great publicity and people responding to help us at the camp. Mission accomplished!

That same day, Team Bly attends the Omaha Autism Walk and has a blast. We are rocking the “Knock’Em Down for Trae” Bowling shirts in honor of my son! Over the past several months he has wanted to wear only long sleeve shirts because he feels more relaxed and calm in them. Well, today, he only needs his bowling shirt! He loves it and we are so happy. He did AMAZING all day long. To celebrate the walk, we went to The Amazing Pizza Machine, went to the hotel and went swimming for a few hours and even went out to eat as a family! A huge day of events and sensory overload for Trae, BUT he handled it great and had a blast!

The trip to Omaha was an AWESOME way to cap off a week I will always remember for the foundation as we continued to spread awareness about autism and anti-bullying! The job is in no way close to being done…..bring on this week!

Due to our busy week, I have not had a chance to post about any more individuals with autism that have done great things. Today, I want to introduce you to James Durbin! He was a finalist on Season 10 of American Idol.

James released a single called “Parachute” and was first diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and Tourette syndrome at the age of 10. James states “Right around the time when I was diagnosed, I got a hand-me-down guitar with a chord book and a cheap busted tuner. I think music is like medicine and can be a benefit for anyone no matter what genre. There’s just so much you can learn. It’s all about focus and for me, not only on the Autism spectrum but also the Tourette’s spectrum, focus was something I needed help with. Music is my focus.”

Music was also a way for him to deal with bullying growing up. He said “Throughout this process, I figured out that no matter how bad of a day I had at school, I could come home and create my own world within the music. I could make the music as happy or sad as I wanted it to be. I used the pain from being bullied to transform me into who I was meant to be.”

What a great story about working on being focused and passionate about something and then going for it! Our goal at the foundation continues to be to help children and families find that focus and help each child reach their full potential in life! Just like James did, we continue to “DREAM BIG!”

Links used for the story above include:

#autism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams #500forautism



"If you've met one individual with Autism....You've met ONE individual with Autism!

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child's ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. These issues cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning. You know the saying..."If you have met one, you have met them all"....well, with kids on the spectrum that is not the case at all!

The children with Autism Spectrum Disorder develop at completely different rates in different areas. They may have delays in language, social, and learning skills, while their ability to do other things such as walk and run around are similar to other kids their age. They might be above average with putting puzzles together or working on computer problems, but they could struggle with social activities like speaking or even making friends. Kids on the spectrum might even learn a hard skill before they master an easy one. For example, a child will read long words, but struggle to tell you what sound a "d" makes.

Children develop each at their own rate, but there are some age-specific developmental milestones used to help measure a child's progress during their first few years. The link below talks more about those social and emotional milestones. In our experiences with Trae and others on the spectrum the saying is true..."If you've met one individual with Autism, you've met ONE individual with Autism". 

Learn the Signs. Act Early(

Today, we want to introduce you to Alexis Wineman. She became the first Miss America contestant (Miss Montana) with autism to compete in the pageant. Alexis was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder. She said "My path may not be one that another person would choose, but I challenged myself to enter the Miss America competition because it seemed like the peak to my own personal Everest. It also seemed kind of ironic: a girl who was told she was different and considered an outcast by many, in the nation's biggest beauty pageant".

So AWESOME!! I would say that she set her goals high and made sure to "DREAM BIG! Alexis reached the top 15 in the competition, and won the America's Choice Award for garnering the most online viewer votes.  She stated "So many people expect autistic people to all be the same--that it's a brain disorder so we can't function in society. I want people to realize there's a whole spectrum of people who live with autism. There are high-functioning people and low-functioning people". 

Another great example that anything is possible. Set you goals high and "Dream Big"!

Links used for the story...

#autism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams #500forautism




Shopping While Autistic...The Sensory Experience!

Today, I wanted to make sure and post this article about the sensory experience of a shopping trip! The things that a lot of us take for granted are extremely overwhelming for kids on the spectrum. The link below also has a video that was put together by an adult with autism that simulates a visit to places like Walmart and other big box retailer place and what that feels like with sensory overload. I hope this will help people realize what the kids on the spectrum are feeling and going through when they are at the store with their parents. There are ways to help the child handle these situations and ones that we have implemented with Trae over the past few years that work. Please be mindful of this issue the next time you see a child having a meltdown in the store. Haven't we all been overwhelmed at one time or another. Again, we hope to continue to raise awareness about these issues and let people see a glimpse of how the kids on the spectrum view different situations. Below is the link to that story and video...

I am also honored to introduce to you today a gentlemen who wrote the New York Times bestseller "Look Me in the Eye" that was published in 2007. John Elder Robison writes about what it was like growing up with Asperger syndrome, but not being diagnosed until he was 40 years old. He has helped with autism research and has published two more books called "Be Different" and "Raising Cubby". WOW!! A New York Times BESTSELLER! 

These stories about individuals that have went on to do incredible things continues to drive the Kids & Dreams Foundation to do whatever we can to help kids on the spectrum progress and reach their full potential in life.  I know I mention our motto "Dream Big" often, but stories like these are one of the reasons we truly believe in that saying! Anything is possible, please come along side us and let's DREAM BIG together. 

Together we WILL make a difference!

#autism #dreambig #kidsanddreams #awareness #500forautism




A True Friend....Nicknames & All!

        “I have been Trae’s friend for 4 years.   We even have special nicknames for each other, TraeBo and WillBo. 

         We like to play cone bowling, tag and on the slides outside.  Outside we like to make funny potions that explode.  We put banana peels in it.  One time we made a fruit punch potion.  Trae has a good imagination.

         I like to be Trae’s partner in PE, especially when we bowl.  We do circle of friends together.  In circle of friends, me and TraeBo are partners.

         Once I had my birthday party in Cairo at the bowling alley.  We both got strikes.   We also chased the party lights on the floor.   After the party, we rode back to Trae’s house in my dad’s loud truck.  Trae yelled, “Roar it!” 

         Trae is one of my best friends!”