How and when did you get involved with Autism on the Seas (AotS)?
I first learned about Autism on the Seas nearly three years ago when some friends and co-workers shared their experiences as professional volunteers. Due to an auto accident, I was unable to truly get involved until October of last year (2017).
How are your educational and career goals supported by what you do for AotS and vice versa?
From an educational standpoint, I am currently working towards my Master's degree in Public Health with a specialty in advocating for people with mental and physical disabilities. I also currently work in the field of behavior therapy as a registered behavior technician (RBT). The majority of children that I work with are on the autism spectrum. I believe in the services that AotS provides and their advocacy on behalf of families with special needs and their right to enjoy a vacation just like typical families.
Describe your role and experience as an AOTS staffer?
My role with AotS is a voluntary position with a primary focus on providing guest families on the cruise the best possible experience with their special needs child. I want the families that I assist to create incredibly memorable moments that they can take back with them.
Why do you do this?
I volunteer with AotS for many reasons. I believe in the services that AotS provides and, as I mentioned, I support their advocacy on behalf of families with special needs children and loved ones who deserve to enjoy a family vacation. On top of that, I love what I do. I love working with the kids and families. Seeing the new experiences they enjoy is very rewarding. The other gratifying reason is being able to show the parents all the wonderful things their kiddos are capable of doing. We tend to get kids to do things that the parents never thought possible, like climbing a rock wall, surfing on the FlowRider or floating in the air on the iFly.
Can you share some examples of connections you've made with families on board AotS cruises that have made a lasting impression?
One of the sweetest families I have ever met is the Fishers. They were one of the families I worked with on my first cruise this past February. They were very wholesome and participated in any and all events. They also made good friends with other families, which is extremely rewarding for me to see. It's extra special when families like this come together and share a common bond. It's not unusual for lasting friendships to begin on an AotS cruise.