Thanksgiving is that one time a year when we pause, each in our own way, to reflect on life’s blessings. In three weeks, I will step aside as OAR’s Executive Director after 21 years at the helm. A change of this magnitude brings a range of emotions, but more than anything, I feel gratitude. With that in mind, what better time than Thanksgiving to share 21 things about OAR for which I’m most thankful?
Leaders and Professionals
- OAR’s seven founders. Six parents and one grandparent of autistic children and adults, who believed they could do something to help other families like theirs and had the courage to act.
- Mission and values. Consistent and unwavering throughout OAR’s 21 years.
- Board of Directors. From the original seven to today’s 13, they have led and governed with generosity, passion, and integrity.
- Scientific Council. The panel of autism professionals, clinicians, and educators, who took OAR’s mission to heart and has overseen the process of reviewing and approving 308 research studies totaling more than $4.7 million since 2002.
- Adjunct reviewers. Truly the unsung heroes behind our research program. Without these 30-40 autism professionals volunteering their time and talent each year, we couldn’t have accomplished the review mission.
- Parents. OAR was founded and has been led by parents. It has also drawn from the experience and input of many other parents to produce resources responsive to the needs of the community.
- Self-advocates. Self-advocates have contributed to OAR’s mission from the outset and will help OAR develop resources and programs that contribute to their everyday quality of life.
- Teachers and special educators. The front-line people who dedicate their lives to teaching children and creating inclusive, welcoming learning environments for all children.
- Newsletter contributors. All the Scientific Council and Board members, OAR staff, parents, autism professionals, educators, siblings, and special contributors to The OARacle every month since September 2002.
- Community reviewers. Every resource OAR produces undergoes review by a representative group from the autism community. Their collective input over the years has directly contributed to the quality and relatability of the content of every resource OAR has produced.
Changing Lives Initiatives
- Hire Autism Business partners. The Hire Autism employment initiative is the most ambitious and potentially impactful program OAR has undertaken. Special thanks to the employers and business partners who have signed up to open their doors to our autistic job seekers.
- Hire Autism Navigators. The most important volunteer roles for OAR. Navigators work one to one with our jobseekers and have helped 41 of them find jobs this year!
- Kit for Kids Peer Education program. What started as a neat fold-out booklet teaching acceptance to K-8 students has now reached more than 165,000 students across the U.S. and has been translated into a lesson in acceptance and kindness in five languages and countries around the world.
- OAR’s staff. The secret sauce! From day one in 2001 to today, the people on our team have been the drivers of all the good things OAR has done. They have taken OAR’s mission to heart.
- Interns. Thank you to the parade of talented college students who interned with OAR and created resources like What’s Up With Nick?, the siblings’ booklets, and both the Guide for Military Families and Operation Autism website.
Friends and Supporters
- Donors for 21 years. As the OAR website says, “A charity like OAR doesn’t succeed on its own.” Since 2001, we have relied on donations from the community to support our efforts. Thank you.
- 11,000 plus runners. No program has been as important to OAR’s success as our RUN FOR AUTISM charity running program. From 110 runners at the 2003 Marine Corps Marathon, it has grown to include more than 11,000 runners running races in Chicago, New York, London, and more and raising almost $11 million for autism research in that span.
- Grassroots support. For 21 years, we have received countless donations from kids’ lemonade stand sales, school classes’ Autism Awareness Campaigns, original t-shirt sales, and a variety of community awareness and fundraising events. To all of the family members, students, teachers, and communities – thank you.
- Opportunity to lead. To Jim Sack, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Dr. Peter Gerhardt, Chairman of the Scientific Council, and Board of Directors members, thank you for the opportunity to lead OAR. It has been an honor every day for 21 years.
- The future, Kristen and team. I am especially thankful to have worked with Kristen Essex, the soon-to-be Executive Director, for more than seven years. No one is more deserving, qualified, or ready to assume the mantel of leadership. She and the team will take OAR to new heights.
The Most Important Thank You
- You, the donor and OAR supporter. OAR would not be OAR without your interest and support. Thank you.
Michael V. Maloney