For Hub City Times
LOYAL – “I remember when it was nothing but a field,” reflected Wayne Frome, a Senior Research Associate at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute.
After 49 years at Marshfield Clinic and in the Marshfield area, Wayne can remember quite a few beginnings. He helped start the Spencer Kids’ Group 20 years ago. And now, he’s placing his bets on a new nonprofit, Tractors for Autism and Disabilities.
Frome nominated Tractors for Autism and Disabilities for Security Health Plan’s monthly Employee-Driven Giving Campaign. Security Health Plan is proud to invest the $1,000 award in supporting Loyal area community members with autism and/or disabilities.
Tractors for Autism and Disabilities’ mission is to provide people with disabilities an opportunity to develop their abilities to their fullest potential, so they can adapt and be a productive member of society. The nonprofit collaborates with Loyal and surrounding area groups to provide training and services for those in need, and purchases much-needed items for people with disabilities who demonstrate financial hardship.
Two brothers with autism were able to share a bike this summer, a bike with both hand and pedal brakes funded by the nonprofit. Youth with disabilities at the House of Mercy, Spencer Special Olympics, and the Neillsville area Kiwanis Aktion Club all received funding from Tractors.
The nonprofit’s current focus is on finding a permanent home for the learning and education center where they’re planning to offer afterschool homework help and life skills training, beginning Jan. 2018. The center is meant to help people with disabilities further their skills and be more productive in school and community life.
“The House of Mercy has offered to begin sharing their community room two days a week for homework help (including children staying at the House of Mercy), for which we are extremely grateful. But we really need our own building in the long term,” said Tractors Secretary Mary Laschen.
“We live in a small community with no real resources for people with autism and disabilities outside of the school system, or even after school hours.”
But Laschen remembers the difference support can make from her 30 years working as a teacher in the Loyal school system: “My students would have trouble with everything from behaviors, to speaking well, to social interactions like eye contact, even just spelling. One of my students wanted to open her own photography studio but worried her spelling difficulties would keep her from succeeding. ‘So you use spellcheck,’ I told her, ‘and you find people to help check you.’ My husband and I were the first wedding she photographed. But now, she has her own studio and successful business.”
“Tractors needs their own place to get started,” agreed Frome, who remembers how essential a brick and mortar establishment was to getting Spencer Kids Group started.
“Tractors wants to become a sort of Ronald McDonald House for their cause and community — a visible, concrete resource for community members with autism and disabilities, and for those supporting them.”
But unlike the Ronald McDonald House, this one is local. “Our president Mike Collins co-founded the group in June 2016 with his son Brenden, and achieved 501(c)(3) status in December 2016,” Laschen explained.
“They had worked with children with autism and disabilities in the school system and saw that they needed more resources. Although they saw progress from the resources their school provided, they wanted the progress to continue beyond school hours.”
All proceeds obtained through fundraisers and donations go into the foundation, with no administration fees, and stays in local communities; and the tractors, they are local, too.
“It’s a rural area, and people like Collins have an interest in them. They’re part of our history. Many folks around here are collectors and the tractors can go for a good deal when refurbished. We accept donated tractors, refurbish, and sell them. This is one of our main funding methods,” explained Laschen.
For more information, visit the Tractors for Autism Facebook page.