By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr
“Parents of children with special needs create their own world of happiness and believe in things that others cannot yet see,” Albert Einstein.
Joe and Kim Walker of West Long Branch had their lives changed forever on May 31, 2011 when they were told their two boys; Jake and Aidan were both diagnosed with Autism. The Walkers were once filled with conflict, desperation, and anger are now filled with hope, not only Jake and Aidan but for all children afflicted.
Three years ago the Walkers started Sweet JAW Foundation, a nonprofit corporation named after their boys. “We strive for one goal and that is to help make a difference in the lives of those affected with Autism,” said Kim.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are unique and vary in degree. Experts say that there is no one cause for Autism and there is no one type of Autism.
For the Walkers it is about regression and progress. “For us it is about looking back and looking back regularly at how far our boys have come and the progress they have made,” said Kim. As parents they have experienced the hardships of having two special children which has tested their souls, loves and strength. But as Kim said, that same darkness has also shown them it is the strongest love there is.
The backbone of Sweet JAW is Kim’s sister Kelly Speck and her best friend Trisha Kilgour. “They are my right and left hand. I could not have undertaken this foundation without their help, support and love,” said Kim.
This year Sweet JAW decided to donate $20,000 from their third annual Gala to SPUR, Special People United to Ride. It is an organization that started in 1981 and is also a nonprofit that is supported by the Monmouth County Park System. It is located at Sunnyside Recreation Area and Equestrian Center in Middletown.
“When Kim approached us last spring about focusing on SPUR for this year’s gala, we were thrilled. Fundraising is always a challenge, and Sweet JAW’s support will help to enable scholarships for students who would not otherwise be able to participate in our programs,” said Barbara Carroll and Barbara Duggan, SPUR Board of Directors Co-Presidents.
SPUR has one goal, to help individuals with disabilities improve their physical condition, quality of life and increase their socialization and interpersonal skills. They accomplish this through therapeutic horsemanship.
The facility is beautiful with classrooms, outdoor riding areas and an indoor arena. The instructors are certified by PATH International, (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). Currently SPUR also has 100 trained volunteers to help with the more than 150 special students.
Over the past year the programs at SPUR have expanded to provide specialized classes for selected schools and they have also partnered with Wounded Warriors to create a program called Horses for Heroes.
“Over 30% of those participating in our traditional lessons are children and young adults diagnosed with autism. The horses have a calming effect on individuals with autism and they have the ability to sense what their rider is feeling – anger, joy, apprehension,” said Carroll. “These remarkable animals are not demanding. They extend love and trust their rider, which helps to create a bond and encourage communication and interaction.”
“Our autistic riders learn to communicate, verbally and physically, with their horse and they receive immediate feedback when the horse responds. The autistic student learns to focus on something beside himself and learns to work with and communicate with their instructor and volunteers during their lesson,” said Duggan.
As Jonas Salk said; “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and those who dare to make dreams into reality.” Kim and Joe Walker with the Sweet JAW Foundation are helping in making dreams of those with autism a reality.