Michele is an author, entrepreneur and the mother of two bright, unique children both diagnosed with autism.  Her son is non-verbal and uses devices to communicate: her daughter is verbal and has echolalia.  Pre-pandemic, her family’s days were filled with appointments, therapies and long-stretches in the car to arrive at all on time.

When suddenly everything came to a stop in the spring, her family found themselves at home with none of the resources they had been accessing and the full days suddenly had nothing scheduled.  Another change, their home, which had always welcomed a “revolving door” of therapists and in a way never felt fully like their home, was quiet, with just the four of them.  Emerging from the month-long stay-at-home order Michele said she was thankful for that time as a family.

Once the stay-at-home order was lifted, the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) creatively implemented a one-to-one model, resulting in just one provider visiting each of her children in her home, instead of the variety of different therapists.  Each therapist brings not only their own particular therapy, but also style and relationship with each child.  Michele saw with the concentrated, single relationship, both her children have made huge gains during the pandemic.  Her son’s teacher shared she was “blown away” with the progress he has made.

Additionally, for additional therapies, some of the providers have instituted teletherapy, essentially preserving the important interaction while eliminating hours in the car back and forth.  The benefits to her family have been so substantial, Michele is in frequent conversation with SARRC about preserving this one-on-one model even once the pandemic has passed.

Finding the opportunity in the challenge, Michele continues to advocate for her children and for other families.

To learn more about Michele’s organization D.A.M.E.S, visit https://damesusa.com/about-us/


For Victoria, resilience has been a life-long strength, not something just recently accessed during the pandemic.  A mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and kinship care advocate, Victoria has been a resilient leader for her family long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.

Nearly 30 years ago, Victoria, with no real notice, took custody of her then -infant granddaughter who had serious medical issues.  With no formal supports or financial assistance, she quickly figured out what her granddaughter needed and how to access it.  Six months later, she again was asked to take custody of another grandchild in need.  By that time, she was “in the groove” of accessing supports, specialists and doctors.  And when it was determined this second child was not biologically her granddaughter, she and her husband did not waver in continuing to provide love, care and a home for that child.

She and her husband adopted other grandchildren and also become foster parents who focused on taking in larger sibling groups – at times as large as 3 or 4 children at once.  She estimates she and her husband have fostered more than 40 children.

This foster experience highlighted the lack of resources for kinship care providers when compared to foster parents.  And as Victoria sought out support, she also discovered how important it was to be part of a community who were also experiencing the same stressors, losses and successes.  This led her to found her own non-profit organization to support kinship providers.  The pandemic has resulted in her organization exploring ways beyond face-to-face to connect.  Using Zoom and phone calls, she maintains that personal connection with kinship families.

Victoria recognizes that COVID-19, coupled with racial injustice, had made this a “horrible” year for many families.  And yet, she sees everyday families who manage to stretch a budget just a bit further than they thought possible; families who manage to come together.

To learn more about Victoria’s organization, visit greynickelinc.com.