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Dublin High School Sophomore Again Leads Fundraiser to Support Autism Research

April 16, 2014

Creative Autism Solutions Team Fundraiser 9You’ll never know who you might meet in a nail salon. Though the conversation may be casual, the impact might be far-reaching. This was the case as DUSD parent Maddie Romero-Salas struck up a conversation with another Tri-Valley parent, Annette Musso. The two mothers shared one thing in common – a child that was impacted across the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Let’s go back. Last fall, covered a story centered on Dublin High School sophomore, Matthew Romero-Salas. At the time, his mother, Maddie, was battling breast cancer. As a member of the Pleasanton Chapter Order of DeMolay, Matt wanted to direct a fundraiser that would benefit a local organization. While the Romero-Salas family never utilized their services, the Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation received the benefit from an October dinner feed and silent auction held at the Pleasanton Masonic Center. The Foundation provides funds so that cancer patients can experience the immediate benefit of complementary therapies to help alleviate the side effects caused by radiation and chemotherapy.

As young Matt continued on with his volunteer activities with DeMolay, he quickly turned his attention to another local organization. His younger brother, Inigo, is an eighth grader at Fallon Middle School and attends Special Day Classes (SDC) there. In his continuing effort to support the community, Matt, quickly decided upon an additional fundraiser to support the Creative Autism Solutions Team (CAST). Maddie overheard a conversation at a salon that spawned that led to this new relationship. Since 2011, CAST founder Annette Musso, has led an effort to create an on-site center as a relationship-support platform to aid parents that have been impacted by the autism journey. She and her husband, Mark are parents to their nine-year old son, Matteo. While they had initially suspected that he might have some challenges, it became quickly apparent that they would require additional support. This support was not readily available – at least in the local area. They became aware of support programs, but many of them were located in Santa Clara County. They were inspired to establish a service organization for those residing in the Tri-Valley. recently had the opportunity to discuss this story with the Musso family. On Saturday, you spoke passionately about why you wanted to create a resource like CAST. Please contrast your initial goals for the organization in 2011 versus where we are today.

Matt Romero-Salas and Annette Musso

Matt Romero-Salas and Annette Musso

Annette Musso:At first, my goal was to have a social skills play facility integrating kids with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and their neuro-typical peers playing together and learning from each other.  We did that in 2011 and were successful.  But as I grew on my own personal journey with my son, different aspects of CAST’s Mission became more important to me…especially that of helping parents choose to “enjoy their journey” with their child, not just try to “fix” him/her or “get him” to a specific point in development by “therapy-ing” them like crazy (I made that word up). We impose therapy “from the outside” of the child onto him.  It wasn’t until I found an approach to autism which develops the innate social DESIRE from WITHIN the child, that I found true inner peace with my son and his journey with autism.  (Thank you “SonRise” Program).  I wanted to share with parents that enjoying the journey WITH their child can create the bond that we long for with him/her.” Your website describes offering services and emotional support to families that have “been there.” To those that may not have been touched by the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), please describe what is like to “be there.”

Musso: “When my child was diagnosed with an ASD, I remember leaving the doctor’s office with a bag full of therapy brochures, magazines, pamphlets, support group flyers, etc…which I never even opened up.  I was so overwhelmed and so was my husband.  The hopes and dreams I had for my only child had just been taken from me (or at least I thought they had been at the time).  I realize now, that I was the one that momentarily chose to believe a negative prognosis of my son’s future, given to me by someone who saw him for 3 hours at the age of 3 years old.  I learned very quickly that my dreams are MY dreams…and no one can take them from me.  They didn’t know how hard I’d research and never give up trying to find ways to help my son reach his full potential and lead a happy, productive and loving life!  If I can share only one jewel with a struggling parent, it is that.

“Because an autism diagnosis can be so emotional, parents need help navigating these different systems…they also need emotional support and new ideas about how to look at these challenges with a positive attitude.  I think it’s special and unique being able to speak to a parent who understands these logistical challenges as well as the emotional component which can accompany them. At the time of diagnosis, I wish I had had someone who was willing to “take my hand” and tell me how to navigate “the system” and that everything is going to turn out beautifully.  Perhaps to have had someone say to me earlier on, “You are embarking on a magnificent journey with your child. Yes, it may be a different one than you had planned as you were pregnant with him, but it will still be full of beauty.  It’s just up to you to notice it and embrace it…and choose to be happy on your adventure!  You are going to learn so much about life and what’s important…you are very blessed.” Accessing support services of any kind can be an expensive proposition. Yet, CAST does not charge any fees. Why is this element important to you and your clients?

Musso: “CAST believes everyone should have access to the kind of support they need…especially emotional support and brainstorming centered around the child’s particular issues.  Having a child on the autism spectrum can be very isolating and full of a wide variety of emotions as well as logistical limitations.  For example, CAST had a “Parent’s Night Out” last fall where we had parents drop off their children with us for three hours so they could go and enjoy an evening out.  One couple hadn’t been on a “date” with each other in seven years!  They just weren’t comfortable having anyone watch their son, so they never went out.  This is a very common story!   We are parents and professionals who love to help others…it’s just that simple.” The Romero-Salas family did not utilize services from CAST. However, Matthew’s awareness dinner/auction raised over $5,000 for your organization. Please express what this means to you. 

The Romero-Salas Family

The Romero-Salas Family

Musso: “The fact that Matthew and his team went to all this effort to raise the funds for CAST and help raise autism awareness in our community is so beautiful!  Imagine, if you will… one day I was driving to a work appointment when I received a phone call from a young man I’d never even met.  He said that he and his friends would like to put on a fundraiser for CAST and he asked me, “Would that be OK with you?”  I just about started crying right then and there!  I receive many phone calls each day…but NEVER have I received one like that!  The love and generosity of Matt and the entire organization is very special, indeed!” Anything else that you would like to add?

Musso: “You know, the daily news and newspapers are filled with such dire information most of the time, that I’ve personally stopped watching and reading it.  I really appreciate you writing this article and highlighting some of the incredible goodness that exists in our community…people need to hear about special young people, like Matt and all of his friends who helped put on this event.”

The Paint It Blue event went off without a hitch. Pasta, salad and bread were served buffet style. We were told that there was enough food to feed 160, but it appeared that they exceeded this number. Prior to dinner, there were various speakers that touched upon the importance of CAST and the leadership abilities gained by participating in DeMolay. There was a ceremonial check presented to Ms. Musso in the amount of $2,000. However, thanks to the silent auction and the generosity of many patrons, the contribution made to CAST was closer to $5,200. We sat down with the architect of this amazing night, Mr. Matthew Romero-Salas. You’ve had the benefit of organizing a previous fundraiser. How did this earlier experience benefit you? What were the other challenges in organizing this event?

Matt Romero-Salas: “Having the benefit of organizing a previous fundraiser, ‘Boobie Scare’ made it that much easier to organize this current one. All the things I had to learn during the previous one, such as making a budget were already a habit. One challenge that came about as I was organizing ‘Paint it Blue’ was definitely finding time. Between band, swimming, and other things I had to do for DeMolay finding time to get donations, to plan and make sure everything went accordingly was probably the hardest part.” You are very close to your brother, Inigo. Please explain how and why it was important to you to ensure that a fundraiser would benefit other families that are impacted by the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Romero-Salas: “Being so close to my brother and seeing how hard it was for him to develop into who he is today inspired me. I wanted to do this fundraiser to help not only other children impacted with autism but their families because it was very hard for my family to be able to give my brother the help he needed and deserved. No family should have to know what it feels like to not be able to help a child of theirs that is in need of it.” Several of your Dublin High School class and band mates were in attendance. Please describe what it meant to have their support this evening.

Romero-Salas: “Having the support of my fellow class and band mates made the night feel that much more special. By them all being there along with all of my immediate and extended family showed me that no matter what happens I have people who I can rely on.” So many of the silent auction items were donated – which means, that 100% of these proceeds will benefit CAST. Here is an opportunity to express your gratitude to your fellow DeMolay members. What would you like to tell them for their support?

Romero-Salas: “Thank you all, for helping me be able to donate everything to a cause that is so close to not only my heart, but all people’s hearts who have been impacted with the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Without you guys this night could not have been possible because I could definitely not have done this alone. Knowing that all of you had my back during this whole process made it that much easier to plan an event as challenging as this.” Last thoughts?

Romero-Salas: “I cannot repay the unconditional love and support that my parents give me and my brother but I hope I make them proud always.”

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