A journey around the world to learn the global approaches to working with children with developmental differences, while sharing our knowledge and the LEEP mission.
A Letter From Our Founder and CEO
Dear Families, Friends and Colleagues,
Some may have heard about the plan on taking a step back from day to day operations to travel the world and learn how others support children with developmental differences as well as share my knowledge and hopefully have a bigger impact and become an advocate for the children we work with.
I am taking a “Gap Year” where my family and I will be traveling to visit other places and cultures and learn how they support children and families with developmental differences. Myself, my husband Joe and my daughters Cailyn and Gracie are all doing this project together.
It has been 18 years since I started LEEP Forward. I have worked hard building a place that is worthy of the children I work with. I have been inspired along the way by each child and family. I know it is struggle to not feel understood and I know that the children I work with have different challenges on a daily basis. While I would not want that for anyone- I do find it a complete joy to get to play and develop relationships with the children and their families. The moment you are able to help bring back that sparkle in their eye or feel true engagement is like nothing else. I often tell people that work is like breathing to me-- and it is. I could not think of anything else in the world I would be doing which often leads me to work 16 or more hours a day. It truly is my passion and life’s work and I could not do this without the support of my family. This dedication has caused me to miss many of my children’s' events and special moments. I could not have been able to do this if I did not know my husband and children's father was there routing them along the way, tucking them into bed, picking out their outfits, fixing their hair, driving them to school, setting up playdates, etc. The list is endless. He is also handing me breakfast as I run out the door and reheating my dinner since I came home 3 hours after I said I would. I am only saying this to honor their journey and participation in all this. I do not feel mom guilt, as I know my girls are watching me work hard helping others. I hope they are able to take that in and it influences who they will become.
I have experienced so many different levels of emotion that have evolved from helping children to helping their families to employees and now wanting to influence the world. I would like to be a bigger voice for the kids I work with. I want to create a community and show we can all support each other and create community along this journey. This most wonderful community has also supported me along this journey. I get to work side by side each day with people that wake up wanting to make a difference and help someone else. There is no ego involved. I watch employees and co-workers work through exhaustion and spend the few moments they may have to rest talking about how to help the kids we work with.
I want to take this journey with my family by my side. I feel discouraged by most school systems and want to show my girls the world and the different ways to gain knowledge. I want the world to be their classroom. I want to share with them the different levels of joy and suffering in the world. I want to show them that we can make a difference. I also believe you can only grow if you challenge yourself and put yourself in changing and unpredictable situations. You need to see new things, taste new food, breathe different air, hear different languages, and experience different things. I want to know how people working with children with autism spectrum disorder receive support around the world. What kind of discussions are happening or not happening? How is therapy paid for? What types of therapy are being used? Are families supported around this process? What can I learn to bring back to the kids, families and community I work with? What can I offer to help those I meet along this journey? I plan on traveling the world for one year and visiting a clinic or school for children with special needs each place I visit. I hope I will be welcomed in to learn and share any knowledge to help them as well. I want our family to leave each place we visit a bit better. We will learn about the different cultures and how we can volunteer our time to help in any small way. I also will be creating a school or learning curriculum for them along the way and hope to share at the end of our journey. We will travel for one year without a concrete roadmap. We were lucky to spend some time in Guatemala at a clinic for children with special needs a few months ago and learn the challenges they face. We will go back soon as promised to work with some of these children. As I write this I am in Bali waiting to attend the Global Autism Summit. I will also be visiting an autism clinic while here.I look forward to meeting thought leaders from around the world in this field and learn how I can be a positive influence in the world of autism and beyond. I want to highlight their wonderful characteristics and promote acceptance but also provide some normalcy. I have personally seen some kids I met at 3 years old do amazing things as they grow up and attend college. I have seen them discover who they are and shine mostly due to the dedication, belief and support of their loving families and community they helped to create. My goal is to gather and share these stories, and be an advocate in this field. I would like for insurance companies to listen to these stories and know that there are different ways to help children become more independent and living a joyful meaningful life. I want them to acknowledge this and pay for other therapies that work and not depend on old scientific data that was collected by outdated experiments. I am not saying there is no value in this but it is not for everyone and we need to join together and trust there are other ways to help children become the best version of themselves. Since there is not two children with autism alike there should not be just one accepted form of therapy. The children are the proof.
So the purpose of this journey we are calling our "gap year" is to travel the world for one year. Wherever this journey takes us and to learn the different therapies for children with autism, how are they paying for this, what can we offer to help them to move along in their journey. This is also about personal growth, spending quality time with my children and hopefully inspiring them to continue making a difference in this world. Whether it is through sheer acceptance of others, learning how to help the environment, animals and our planet or just knowing there is more than one way to do things. We are on this journey together - all of us- we need to be able to adjust our lens and share our experiences. There will be challenges but hoping to have many joyful moments. Children learn by watching not by what you tell them. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. I want all who I encounter to know that someone cares.
Please join in this journey and follow us on the various social media channels we will create and share. We will also create a documentary and finally write LEEP of Faith and bring Band-Aid girl to life. You will love her! This will hopefully create a roadmap of sorts for others to learn from. The hope is to inspire, educate, learn and share in order to help create a community that provides room for all of us to be the best version of ourselves.
Lorell Marin, Joe, Cailyn and Gracie