Autism Awareness Month – Opal Project
Published 8:27 am Monday, April 24, 2023
We spoke with Nicole Braswell a Co-founder of the Opal Project. Jakin Tillery and Nicole both taught special education for several years. After working together last year, they notice a demand in the community for additional resources for their students with special needs and their families. The Opal project stands for Opportunity, Purpose, and Abundant Living. Braswell says that it is their mission, “to provide individuals with disabilities opportunities to discover their purpose and lead independent and abundant lives.” Ways they do this are through respite events, their adult day center, and providing support for parents and caregivers. Braswell said that, “respite may be unfamiliar to most people, but to families of children with disabilities is it the number one need.” She adds that being a parent or caregiver to a child with special needs is a 24/7 job and it is still crucial for the parents to be able to have time for them so that they are able to rest and recharge. The respite events that the OPAL Project put on are hosted at local churches and provide care to individuals with special needs of all ages. These events give parents and caregivers a break to be able to run errands, take a nap, or just are able to enjoy some time alone. Their adult day program, that is located at The OPAL Center, in Sylvester, GA is open to individuals with disabilities ages 18 an older. The OPAL Center gives special education students who have aged out of the school system a place to go and continue to work on developing the skills that are necessary to live independent and abundant lives. The individuals that attend partake in many different outings in the community to give them a chance to practice independent living skills like grocery shopping, ordering at a restaurant, and washing their clothes at the Laundromat. They also enjoy volunteering at the Chamber of Commerce or the Humane Society to work on job readiness skills. Braswell says that, “Most importantly, The OPAL Center gives their individuals opportunities to socialize with their peers and community members.”
We asked Braswell, “Has Autism affected your life in any way?” She said that, “ As a special education teacher, both herself and Jakin have become knowledgeable of Autism and the challenges it may bring.” She continues with saying that, “We’ve seen first hand how hard it can be for families and caregivers to fins support in our area. This is a huge problem and we want to use our experience to help spread awareness and be part of the solution.”
Lastly we asked Braswell, “Why do you think it is important to have/create resources for those who have Autism?” Her response was, “ Many individuals with Autism have behaviors that can be difficult to manage and parents/caregivers in our community are in desperate need of resources and support. It is really hard to understand that responsibilities that come with having a child with Autism, but we want parents and caregivers to know that they aren’t alone.” If you are looking for more information on the OPAL Project, how you can get involved or if you have a child that could benefit from this you can find them on Facebook at The OPAL Project, or emailing them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.