Robin and Aundréa at the Wine & Chocolate Dinner

Dear Autism Society of Mahoning Valley Community,

I am thrilled to share with you the incredible journey we are embarking on with the launch of the Sophia’s Gift Project. The ASMV Board is deeply invested in ensuring that every family affected by autism receives the support they need today and in planning for the future. We recognize that these families’ long-term needs are significant and come with a considerable financial burden.

The inspiration for Sophia’s Gift comes from a powerful and moving true story documented in the film “Sophia, I Love You” featuring a local special needs single dad’s struggle when faced with a life-threatening health crisis alone. This three-part project aims to address the financial, legal, and end-of-life planning needs that are often persistent concerns for parents of individuals with autism.

Many parents grapple with the questions of how their child will be cared for in the long term and what happens when they are no longer there. To shed light on these critical aspects, ASMV initiated a series of monthly free family workshop sessions led by local attorneys last fall. These workshops guide parents on essential steps, from establishing a basic STABLE savings account to gaining legal guardianship for decision-making when the individual cannot and setting up a trust for the future when parents cannot provide care.

We conducted a community survey to address the lack of understanding and subsequent absence of legal guardianship, STABLE accounts, and Special Needs Trusts among local families. The results underscored the urgency for educational and support initiatives, leading to the creation of the Sophia’s Gift Family Planning Grant. This grant allows participating families from the workshops to access life planning with an attorney at no cost or a reduced rate.

Two of these Family Planning Grants were awarded at the fundraiser – one to Scott Austalosh, a cancer survivor, and the other to Kelly Long, a kidney transplant survivor. Both are parents with at least one child on the autism spectrum, underscoring the very real and immediate needs within our community.

I am pleased to announce that last month’s inaugural fundraiser, the Wine & Chocolate Dinner, was a tremendous success, thanks to the incredible generosity of our community. The proceeds from this event will seed fund a vital component of this project – the Sophia’s Gift Emergency Fund. This mini-grant fund, set to launch in 2025, will provide immediate assistance in the face of catastrophic needs that families may encounter.

As we move forward, I extend my deepest gratitude to our sponsors, particularly our top-level Sparkling Wine sponsors Roth, Blair, Roberts, Strasfeld & Lodge, and Diamond Steel Construction Co. Your support is not just a sponsorship; it is a lifeline for families in need.

Let us continue this journey of compassion, support, and empowerment. Sophia’s Gift is more than a project; it is a commitment to making a lasting impact on the lives of Mahoning Valley autism families. Together, we are not just raising funds; we are writing a new chapter of hope and opportunity for every autistic child and their families.

With heartfelt appreciation,

Aundréa Cika Heschmeyer

Board President, Autism Society of Mahoning Valley