Autism has always been a topic of passion for me. I spent three years working for Kaleidoscope Family Solutions, an organization specializing in helping individuals with autism live fulfilling, independent lives. My own life was anything but that.
Around this date a year ago, I was severely overweight, struggling with depression and anxiety. Even small things like leaving the house felt like true accomplishments. Still, when my new clients scheduled their first meeting with me, I went in with a smile.
When I met Kyle, I couldn’t have known how much he and his diagnosis would change my life. He introduced himself and quickly asked me if I worked out. I’d like to think of myself as someone who goes to the gym from time to time, but admittedly it had been a long time since I last set foot near any exercise equipment. Kyle wasn’t bothered by my response and happily informed me we were going to work out as a team together from now on.
There was something about his enthusiasm that was simply contagious. He was scheduled for meetings 5 times in the week and every time we’d see each other, he would urge me to go to the gym. I couldn’t say no.
One day, I looked at myself in the mirror and I was speechless. Three months had passed since I first met Kyle and realized that 30lbs were gone. My body’s transformation inspired me to be even more serious about joining Kyle in the gym and before I knew it, I shed another 20 lbs, and then another 30lbs!
Kyle’s enthusiasm, support, and belief in myself and Kyle’s autism changed my life. I was 110lbs lighter and as the pounds shed away, so did my depression and anxiety. My job was to help Kyle and those like him live a more fulfilling life. If you’d asked me a year ago, I never would’ve thought that it would be Kyle that would change my life.
I kept on working with him until one day we went to a neighborhood park. The area was dirty, bordering on dangerous and the equipment was so old and rusty, I couldn’t risk either of us using it. We went to a different location but as I lay in bed that night, I couldn’t fall asleep. There were tons of parks in the urban community around where Kyle lived but they were all in despicable condition. Why was he forced to take the long drive to the suburbs just so he can enjoy himself and relax around nature?
But as Kyle had given me so much, I just couldn’t leave it at that. That’s how my wife and I came up with the idea of ‘Protecting Our Parks’ (POP): a non-profit with a mission to beautify and revitalize parks, communities, recreation centers, and libraries and make them more accessible. Just as Kyle inspired me to change my life, I now strive to inspire others to get together and make our parks and community areas inclusive and safe places for recreation for individuals with special needs and typical people. Today we change Philadelphia, tomorrow - the world.