Everyone has a passion and we all find it at different points in our lives, some sooner and some later. For Megan Gauler and Olivia Birky their passion surfaced on the sooner side of the spectrum. Over the last year, Megan and Olivia have formed a great friendship and have bonded over many shared interests, such as a strong love for music, but one thing brought them closer than anything else and that would be the fact that they both have loved ones with Autism.
Megan grew up with Autism in her life. From the moment her brother, Jacob, was born Autism played a big role. Both she and her parents knew that Jacob would have difficulties in his life that neither they nor Megan would have to go through. Autism would make learning and going to school harder, it would make finding friends difficult, and it would place obstacles in his path that most people don’t have trouble leaping over. Life would be difficult for Jacob, but he has a loving and supportive family that would do absolutely anything for him.
Olivia didn’t grow up with Autism, but Autism will grow up with her. Olivia’s handsome nephew, Bo, was born with Autism and, like Megan’s family, they knew that he would have difficulties in his life and challenges he would have to face that most others won’t. But, with loving parents and a doting aunt, Bo has the support system that any young child could wish for.
It was in an instant that both Olivia’s and Megan’s worlds collided. During her senior year at Kouts High School, Megan aided for Bo. She watched his challenges and trials and saw how difficult learning in class was for him.
“It was really hard to see that he was struggling trying to do things on paper and trying to do things that the class was doing. We knew he couldn’t do the things the other kids were doing, but there was no help for him.“ Megan said.
Seeing Bo struggle really got Megan thinking and she and Olivia came together and decided that they needed to help somehow. They had recognized how much their family members improved when doing classwork on an iPad rather than in the classroom and wanted to be able to provide help for students like them, and so, The Bo Foundation was formed.
“Our goal is to provide funding and technology to schools who don’t have the funding or the help in the special education rooms so that they can get things to help their students with Autism perform better,” Olivia said.
So far, Olivia and Megan have been successful in their efforts to help. With the encouragement and support of their principal, Mr. Terry Brownell, Birky Family Farms, and other fundraisers, they have managed to collect a little over $5,000 to start helping schools in need.
“We came into a roadblock prior to this when we found out that we needed a grant to purchase the technology and give it to the schools," Megan said. "It was all very complicated but after a very important meeting is held with the Super Intendant of East Porter County Schools and other important individuals we will be able to purchase technology for our first school and that is very exciting!”
So what fuels their fire? Having a non-profit at such a young age is a lot of hard work especially for two young women who are still finishing their education. For Megan, Jacob is all the inspiration she needs.
“I just don’t want to see [Jake] struggle in life, that’s actually my biggest fear. My mom asks me all the time ‘What are you going to do when I’m gone?’ and it’s kind of hard to think about. Knowing that he is already struggling in school is hard. I just want it to be easier for him to live and easier for him to succeed just like a normal person. That’s what I think about every day. And knowing that I can do most things that he can’t really drives me to help,” Megan said.
For Olivia, seeing Bo succeed is all she needs to keep her going strong on this endeavor.
“I love seeing [Bo] accomplish things," Olivia said. "For example, he is really good at spelling, especially for his level. He can learn to spell so easily, and I love seeing how Autism is so much more than it seems. Autistic kids are so smart and a lot of times people don’t see that. I just want to show people how smart they actually are and that they don’t just have a disability.”
The dream doesn’t just stop at helping their high school’s special education program, Megan and Olivia plan on expanding in the Valparaiso area with the SELF School, Morgan Township and Washington Township schools.
“We just want this to expand and grow. Our long-term goal is to one day have The Bo Foundation be a national organization and have it recognized all across the U.S. We would be happy with it just going state wide, though. We just want to raise awareness and help people. That’s what this is really about, we just want to help those who are having the same struggles as we are, and help them make it easier and help people realize that kids with Autism are really smart and that they can do things. They just need a little bit of help.” Megan said.
These girls have a passion for helping and have hearts filled with love and compassion. Their loved ones support them and Autism awareness compels them. They don’t want people to see the disability their loved ones have, they want them to see the leaps and bounds they are making thanks to the technology provided for them.
“Autism is a disability but the kids who have it should not be classified as disabled. They are very smart and there are things that Autistic kids can do those kids without Autism simply can’t. Just because they can’t process things as well as others doesn’t make them disabled. There are certain things, like patterns and numbers and letters, which they are very good at. We all just need to focus on that,” Olivia said.
The message these bright, outgoing, charismatic girls would like everyone to here is that yes, Autism is a disability, but the people with Autism are not, by any means, disabled. For these girls, Autism is a blessing and they could not picture their lives without it. Autism provides a new perspective, and what a great perspective it is.
To support The Bo Foundation, you can like their page on Facebook www.facebook.com/theBoFoundation and learn how you can help spread Autism awareness and help this foundation grow.