The challenges families face when their child is diagnosed with autism can be overwhelming and finding the help they need is sometimes almost impossible. For those living in the Northwoods, the search for autism-related services often leads to frustration, as we, like many rural areas in the nation, struggle to attract the much-needed service providers to offer therapy to our growing population of children with autism spectrum disorder.
When a need is there, it is often parents who decide to act and take the future of their children, and the community’s children into their own hands. When Pete and Deb Adams saw the need for more autism services in the area, they responded, and created Gracie’s Place, a non-profit therapy center for children with special needs, named after their daughter Gracie, who has the dual diagnosis of autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Gracie’s Place, in Woodruff, offers speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and family education, as well as resources and support for families of children with special needs from birth to age 18. They provide parent training, education, and support in every therapy session, specialized parenting classes, respite care for parents, mentoring classes and community support groups, through a combined funding source of insurance and generous donations. Recently, the therapy center was awarded a $5,000 grant from Autism Speaks, a highly regarded autism advocacy organization often the first place newly diagnosed families reach out to when looking for information on autism.
With this grant, Gracie’s Place plans to offer group or individual therapy scholarships to children with autism, fostering their mission in providing hope for Northern Wisconsin families and help for their children with special needs, through therapeutic services and training resources, at no cost to parents. Gracie’s Place is a sensory-friendly space offering state-of-the-art therapeutic equipment for children and is a haven of respite and community for families.
Creating this place of hope
As parents of a child with autism and ADHD, the Adams’ know the struggle of obtaining services in smaller communities. While living in Kentucky, their daughter Gracie attended a phenomenal facility, and when contemplating the move to Northern Wisconsin, they knew they would be relocating to an area with minimal resources. Deb, who was finishing her master of divinity through Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kent., wanted to move back to the Northwoods to create a new small church in the area. Knowing services in the region were few and far between, Deb felt a calling of sorts, and had a vision of her daughter happily engaging in therapy at a center in Minocqua, one that didn’t exist yet.
“I just saw that in my head and had this feeling that something like this might be needed,” Deb explained.
She made a phone call to Cory Dart, Children’s Services Manager from Headwaters in Rhinelander and presented her idea, inquiring if there was indeed a need for this in the area.
“Cory told me, ‘yes, there is a serious need’ without hesitation,” Deb stated.
After that, the creation of Gracie’s Place was imminent, and the word was spreading of the Adams’ intentions once they relocated to the Minocqua area. Deb professed, “literally people were calling us while we were still in Kentucky asking, ‘when are you coming?’ We had people calling to find out if we were really doing this because they were contemplating moving away from the area if we didn’t.”
With the help of Rob Way, district administrator/director of curriculum and instruction at Lakeland Union High School and a board member of Gracie’s Place, a location in the lower level of Lakeside Plaza was secured, and the couple soon moved to the area to set up the facility.
“We came here to sign the papers and set it up, and we still didn’t have a place to live!” Deb said. Luckily, Dave Steinle, owner of Lakeside Plaza and D.C. Steinle Inc. Construction, was able to help them find a home, and the family was grateful. “He’s just that kind of a man, very generous and caring.”
Pete Adams was moved by the generosity of the Lakeland community.
“It was really neat how it all got woven together,” he said. “People came forward, and they care about these kids even if they don’t have skin in the game or know someone with autism.”
“Everything that we do here is volunteer. We both have full-time jobs, as does our board members. The only people that get paid out of Gracie’s Place are the therapists, which is where most of our costs originate, and of course, we need to pay the utilities to keep the lights on,” Deb explained. “We are a Medicaid provider and credentialed through Security Health Plan, so, we do take people’s insurance. The problem is that a great deal of the time, insurance denies this type of therapy. Anything that’s not covered by insurance is funded by donation, and our goal is never to give a parent a bill. So far, we’ve accomplished that goal.”
Hope supported by generosity
When an email came in from Autism Speaks about a community grant available for autism-related organizations, Deb completed the paperwork required.
“You have to fit within the parameters of the grant, and this specific grant was strictly for children with autism,” she stated. It was a swift process once the deadline for submission closed, and in three months, the couple received notice that Gracie’s Place was awarded the $5,000 grant.
Local businesses and non-profits have also donated to Gracie’s Place, including St. Matthias Episcopal Church and Thrift Shop and Black Sheep Ink, a tattoo shop in downtown Minocqua. Owner/Tattoo artists Megan Hunt and Tanner Lillie saw an article in The Lakeland Times and heard people talking about Gracie’s Place, and because one of their team members has a daughter on the autism spectrum, felt the need to donate to the organization.
“What resources are here are so limited that accessing them is challenging, the waiting lists are huge,” Hunt said. “When we found Gracie’s Place, we were pretty excited to see that there was a local resource that was open to parents and families of children with special needs.”
“We reached out to them during autism awareness month, and asked if it would be OK if we donated 5% of the proceeds from every tattoo done in April to their facility,” Hunt said.
During the donation period, Black Sheep Ink had roughly 60 people come in for tattoo work.
“People really hustled to get in towards the end of the month because they wanted to be a part of it,” Hunt said. “They wanted the money to go back to Gracie’s.”
As a tattoo shop, Hunt says they try to contribute to a worthy cause in the community at least once every two to three months. “I don’t like the generalization that tattoo shops can’t be good for communities. So, I try to really smash that if I can.”
Hunt said they are now taking suggestions for their fall 2019 donation project for October, and anyone who knows of a local charity which would benefit from their generosity can stop in at the shop Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday by appointment, or call 715-892-4205.
Other donations received included a generous memorial donation which Deb said was very appreciated.
“An individual approached us and donated all gifted memorial funds to Gracie’s Place,” she said. “They felt helping our facility would have been very important to their loved one who passed.”
How Gracie’s Place operates
Deb said for children to receive services at Gracie’s, they need a referral from a physician, even for the social groups. Usually, parents pursue a referral, but sometimes, Gracie’s Place gets recommendations for therapy straight from the physician. Parents fill out the necessary paperwork, and Deb will then connect them with a therapist and determine if they have space available to take on a new patient.
“I help pair them up, and then the therapist and the family decide on a schedule,” Deb explained. One issue which has become apparent is the glaring lack of service providers in the area, and Deb said, unfortunately, they have had to turn away some children this summer.
Gracie’s Place is not open to the public during therapy times, but is open from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Thursdays and Fridays for children and their parents to come in and socialize in a safe environment.
“Mondays from 10 to 11 a.m. we have a pre-K through second grade group that meets, and currently there are a couple of open spots available in that slot,” Deb said. “We also have a Monday, 11 a.m. to noon group for 7 to 10 year olds, which is currently full, as well as a teenage social group on Wednesday afternoons. We currently have 20 children involved in our programs, and are at maximum capacity due to lack of provider time.”
The facility also conducts a parent group which Deb facilitates.
“This is a networking group where we try to get parents together,” she said. “We have had different speakers come in and discuss everything from navigating IEPs (Individualized Education Program) to information about essential oils and nutrition.”
Adams points out the need for providers is high, especially speech and language therapists. As far as the future of Gracie’s Place, the Deb and Pete Adams hope it grows and bring on an executive director, someone who has been involved in special needs-related organizations and has a solid grasp of autism and other developmental disorders.
This oasis of hope for so many area families fills a need which is continually growing. With the helping hand of organizations like Autism Speaks, local non-profits like St. Matthias, local businesses like Black Sheep Ink and generous donations from the general public, Gracie’s Place will continue to give children with special needs and their families a place to find the help they need.
To donate to Gracie’s Place, contact Deb Adams by phone at 715-966-6474, or email [email protected]
, or visit their website donation page at https://gracies-place.org/give/
Donations can also be mailed to Gracie’s Place, P.O. Box 2322, 103 Elm Street, Woodruff, WI 54568.
Kimberly Drake can be reached at [email protected]