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Meet Claire Dees of Spectrum Autism Support Group

Today we’d like to introduce you to Claire Dees.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Spectrum Autism Support Group was started by two parents in the fall of 1998 to provide support, education and resources for individuals and families impacted by autism in our community, which includes Gwinnett County and surrounding metro Atlanta counties. One hundred people showed up for the first meeting so we realized there was a big need for support in our community.

Spectrum has since grown to serve well over 1500 families each year through support group meetings (including parents, siblings, dads, grandparents, parents of preschoolers, parents of adults and more), camps and clubs, social skills groups, respite programs, family events, community education and training and more. Spectrum offers both day camp and overnight camps, Lego club, Technology club, and Drama club, all focusing on improving social skills, creating friendships and building independence. Whether it is providing one-on-9ne support to help a parent on the phone in navigating a new diagnosis and community resources or helping a family feel accepted and less isolated and alone by attending a family event, we seek to provide what is needed, filling in the gaps that exist in our community, helping families connect and live better lives.

Spectrum is a 501c3 and appreciates donations from individuals, businesses and foundations which help us continue to meet the growing needs of our community. The rate of autism in Georgia is 1 in 64 according to the CDC’s last statistics.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The biggest issue for us is the continued growth of the population impacted by autism with the rate still epidemic, some now saying 1 in 50. We need to provide support for all who need it. We offer our camps and social skills groups at the most affordable rates we can, supplementing the cost with funds raised thru grants and fundraising efforts. Community support thru donations or volunteer hours mean a lot to our success. The needs only continue to grow as does our need for funds to support our valuable work.

We are committed to helping families tap into state funding for respite and camps but there are waiting lists and many have to wait or can only secure funding for 1-2 weeks of camp, when they have an entire summer of no school and no services for a child with autism needing structure and sameness of days and routines. We offer 7 weeks of day camp and have a waiting list for every week each summer. We are able to currently accommodate 80 per week. Space is shared by local churches and with a need for at least 12 classrooms space is another issue. We would ideally love to own our own facility and dream of one day having one.

Please tell us about Spectrum Autism Support Group.
We are a non-profit, providing support, education and resources for individuals and families impacted by autism in Gwinnett and surrounding metro area counties. People drive for a long way to come to our meetings and programs because there is not another group like ours in the Southeast!

We are proud to be a support for families, to help them improve their lives, to connect with others on a similar journey and know they can gain knowledge and strength from others.

We have a listserv and FB page and attract followers from around the globe. I just had a Pakistani woman attend our last meeting, saying someone in Pakistan had advised her to get involved with Spectrum! We have had campers come from Japan and Africa!

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Not sure if anything! I love this organization, and never envisioned it becoming what it is today, how big and how large our reach. So perhaps I would have stretched my faith and vision a bit more! I led this organization as a volunteer up until last year and as we enter our 20th year I am proud to say we managed our funds well and were able to transition to paid staff so that we can do more in the next 20 years, hopefully obtaining our own building at some point. We have used local churches, schools and other organizations to share space with but it has limited us in how many we can serve.

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