Facing autism with courage, and lots of heart

When I began writing this blog, to celebrate ordinary people who act with extraordinary courage, Lisa Ackerman was one of the first people I featured. My brother and sis-in-law know Lisa personally, and they will be the first to acknowledge that she will do just about anything to help others, and does this with incredible heart and energy (and yes, she does have a lot of energy!).  Lisa, and her son Mark, have navigated the world of autism with there own family, and are dedicated to making sure no family will face the diagnosis alone.

Since April is Autism Awareness month, I decided to dust off this blog entry and give it another run. I am also working to raise funds for Lisa’s organization since she has been such a big influence in my own nephew’s life.  Sooo…here’s the pitch (wait for it)… if you would like to help me by donating even $5 to help support TACA’s mission, I would truly do a happy dance!


While Lisa’s efforts through TACA are an incredible act of courage, I feel every child with autism, along with their parents, teach me more about courage than any hero I will ever know. Their strength and determination to move through this world with love, dignity and compassion make my heart thankful to know them all.

Always, love always, Deb


original post 9/25/2011

Lisa and Glen Ackerman are great examples of courage to me.

They may not think of themselves this way, but I’m sure I can find thousands of parents who would agree with me.  Finding themselves faced with the fact that their young son had been diagnosed with autism, they not only sought out information on ways to help their family, but they took the suggestion of their daughter to open their home to other families going through the same new world of confusing and often isolating medical diagnosis.

What started as a small group of parents in Lisa and Glen’s living room blossomed into more and more families seeking answers, options and friendship from others merely months ahead of them on the journey. Over 10 years later, the sharing continues, but now reaches over 20,000 families nation-wide with support, information and fun activities.

Pretty good for a family with a “good idea”.  Sometimes courage is the willingness to help others, even as you find yourself in need.

Find out more about Lisa and Glen’s non-profit Talk About Curing Autism (TACA) at http://www.tacanow.org

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Love deeply

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

  Lao Tzu  Chinese Taoist Philosopher (600 BC)

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Team Rubicon- A passion to help

Jake Wood

We all know someone with enthusiasm that is simply contagious. They have a passion that can’t be bought or sold. It’s just in them.

Jake Wood is one of those people. After serving as a US Marine, he found it impossible to stop helping others when he saw a need.

His passion to use the skills learned in the Marine Corp led him to reach out to those in need, including his fellow service members home from duty, many struggling to find their place in the world.

When news of natural disaster and human suffering hits, Jake calls on his all volunteer troupe of former military men and women, and they head out to help under the name of “Team Rubicon”.

They bandage, search, coordinate, clean-up and do whatever needs to be done with military precision. And more importantly, they are able to know they are giving back. They still matter.

Jake’s courage to continue to help those effected by unforseen disaster is inspiring.
His heart and passion draw us in. His renewed mission to help fellow veterans understand how much they are needed is a powerful lesson in compassion.

Check out the Team Rubicon website at teamrubiconusa.org and see how to help.


read more about Jake’s “Team Rubicon” and watch the video at:


Excerpts from: In the worst calamities, these veterans rush to the rescue

By Kathleen Toner, CNN, Thu March 29, 2012

“When Haiti suffered a massive earthquake two years ago, many people responded by donating money. Jake Wood responded with a Facebook post.

“I’m going to Haiti. Who’s in?” wrote the former U.S. Marine.

 The images Wood was seeing on the news reminded him of his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He realized that the skills he had acquired in the service, including the ability to adapt to difficult conditions, work with limited resources and maintain security in a dangerous environment, were sorely needed.

 “Those are just lessons that you work at every single day in Falluja,” said Wood, 28. “To a veteran, it’s second nature.”

 Wood wanted to help, and he persuaded his college roommate, a firefighter, to join him. Within minutes of seeing Wood’s Facebook post, another friend and former Marine, William McNulty, signed on. Interest quickly snowballed, and soon donations poured into Wood’s PayPal account. Three days later, he and seven others were in the Dominican Republic, heading into neighboring Haiti with medicine and equipment.

Over the next three weeks, more than 60 volunteers — mainly from medical or military backgrounds — followed Wood’s lead and made their way to the stricken country to join his group. They set up triage centers in camps, treating whoever they could, and helped ferry people to hospitals. Wood estimates they helped thousands of Haitians.

They called their group Team Rubicon, in reference to the phrase “crossing the Rubicon,” which means passing a point of no return. The moniker turned out to be appropriate. Wood had planned for the trip to be a one-time mission. But during their time in Haiti, he and McNulty became aware that they were on to something.

“We realized we were more effective than many organizations that were down there with us,” Wood said. “We also realized that most organizations weren’t engaging vets on their own. So we said, ‘Let’s try to improve this.’ “

Team Rubicon became a nonprofit, and Wood has never looked back. In the past two years, he says, the group has built an army of more than 1,400 volunteers — 80% of them military veterans — who respond to disasters and help those in need.

The team has conducted 14 missions. It ran triage clinics after the Chile earthquake and the flooding in Pakistan. It traveled to Sudan and Myanmar to help people caught in regional conflicts. And last year, it removed debris and assisted in search-and-rescue missions following tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Joplin, Missouri.

Wood believes that today’s veterans enjoy the fellowship that comes from giving back.

“Being able to help people and be a part of a team once again … I think gives them some of (what) they were missing,” Wood said. “They are almost recharged.”

Wood realized the importance of this after a personal loss in April 2011. His best friend, Clay Hunt — a fellow veteran and Team Rubicon volunteer — committed suicide. Hunt had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt. It was a shock to Wood, as Hunt seemed to be adjusting well. He was literally a poster boy for returning veterans, appearing in a public-service announcement for a veterans advocacy group.

Clay Hunt

“It was tremendously difficult to feel like I had let him down, knowing that we had survived two wars together but that when things were easy and it had come to peace, that I wasn’t there enough for him,” Wood said. “That has been a very tough battle for me, dealing with that.”

Hunt’s death made Wood realize how critically important the connections are that Team Rubicon enables veterans to build with each other. It also made the group refocus its own mission: Instead of being a disaster relief organization that uses veterans, Team Rubicon is now a veteran support organization that uses disasters as opportunities for continued service.

“We’re giving them a reason to come together … and that community lasts long after the mission,” Wood said. “Right now, Team Rubicon is focused on how we can … get them involved in as many ways as possible.”

The approach seems to be working.

Nicole Green served in the Air Force for four years, working as an intelligence officer in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. For her, finding Team Rubicon has been life-changing.

“When I got out of the military, it was very stressful,” she said. “You feel alone. You meet people who don’t understand your background.”

Green volunteered for the group’s first domestic mission, in Tuscaloosa. She enjoyed it so much that she helped out in Joplin less than a month later.

“I felt that I was doing something meaningful with my life again … using a lot of the same skills, but in a way that (was) constructive instead of destructive,” Green said. “And I was with other people who understood me … focused on a common goal. That was really a great feeling.”

Team Rubicon is working with several veterans organizations to recruit more volunteers, and Wood is aiming to have 10,000 on its roster by the end of the year. The group is also working on ways to keep volunteers engaged once they sign up by doing service projects at home and abroad.

Wood believes that giving veterans a chance to give back is a formula for success, and he’s determined to bring his message to as many people as he can.

“There’s no limit to what veterans can do. … They’ve already proven that they want to serve … and when they come home, a lot of them still want to do it,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.””


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Care a whole awful lot….

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not!”

Dr. Seuss (1904-1991), American writer, poet, and cartoonist- from The Lorax

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A story of community and good food

I have always day-dreamed about having a few acres full of garden goodness, some chickens and a small orchard (of course the work involved isn’t really part of my fantasy).  But for now, I’ll make due with my small backyard garden, and wait impatiently to plant my tomatoes!

Today I read about an inspiring couple in Michigan with a passion for community gardening, and a unique way of supporting their local micro-farmers.

Every Friday, Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe turn their Ann Arbor home into the Selma Cafe — a “pay what you like” breakfast club where donations are put into a fund to provide hoop houses (like green houses) and micro-loans to local growers.  With the help of neighbor volunteers and guest chefs, they not only produce amazing breakfasts, but also help assemble the hoop houses to support the local agriculture economy. Jeff and Lisa’s passion, commitment and courage has helped their local community stay connected for over 3 years.


excerpt from the Michigan Daily – January, 2012

“My goal is that I want someone to come to Selma Café and feel (as though) they’ve been invited into our home for breakfast,” Gottlieb said.

Despite its low-key surroundings, Selma Café dishes up some of the highest-quality cuisine imaginable. The morning I visited the breakfast salon, chef Dan Vernia of The Ravens Club served traditional mincemeat pierogies and winter vegetable coulibiac.

Noticeably missing from the truly gourmet menu is the expected hefty price tag. Selma Café operates on a by-donation basis and Gottlieb said that the average donation is between $10 and $15 a person. A typical breakfast at Selma, Gottlieb said, could raise up to $1500.

One-third of this money is used to buy fresh, high-quality ingredients from local farmers that Ann Arbor’s best chefs use to create that Friday’s fare. The rest of the funds are allocated as micro-loans to local farmers to buy hoop house kits, another integral part of Selma Café’s mission.

Hoop houses allow farmers to grow food during all four seasons, extending the growing season exponentially and greatly increasing the availability of local produce. Selma Café volunteers install the hoop houses, keeping the cost minimal to farmers.

So far, Selma Café profits have helped to build 30 hoop houses in the surrounding community, with four built in Detroit.

Selma Café started as a party in its earliest days. The whole idea of a locally grown café got started when Gottlieb threw a breakfast party to celebrate McCabe’s 50th birthday in Feb. 2009. From the party, she said a “core group of people” who wished to continue the tradition developed.

It’s an unlikely start to an extraordinarily unique nonprofit organization, one that has fed thousands of Ann Arbor locals and assisted a number of local farmers.


Lisa and Jeff have the creativity, passion and courage to make a difference. They open their home weekly to bring neighbors together for a great meal, and provide a way for neighbors to help each other.  What a wonderful way to support your community!

Check out their web site at: http://www.repastspresentandfuture.org/site/fmselma/

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See the need and respond

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Fred Rogers aka “Mr. Rogers” (1928-2003)- American educator, Presbyterian minister, songwriter, author, and television host

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The time is now to do something

Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy lives that we can stop noticing what is going on around us. The people that live in small towns down the road may be no more than a blur as we pass by to our final destination.

One day, Sal Dimicel passed a small town like that while tending to his real estate business. But for some reason, Sal stopped to look a bit harder, and saw people in desperate need of help. Instead of continuing on with his business, what Sal did that day started a mission of courage that continues to provide a willing heart and hand to new found friends. Sal chose to act, and shows us the power one person can have to make a positive change.


Excerpt from a wonderful December 2000 Time article about Sal Dimicel:

There are 3,300 residents of Pembroke Township, 65 miles south and a world away from Chicago. The single small commercial district within the township, originally settled in the 1950s by former farm workers who had migrated from the South, has now all but disappeared. The 4-Way Deli is the only store in the town, which has no supermarket, bank or restaurant. For those things, townspeople, many of whom are poor, black and without cars, must take the one available daily bus to Kankakee, which is 20 miles to the west. There is no natural-gas line in Pembroke Township; residents heat their homes with bottled gas, coal or firewood. Some still do not have running water and carry it in buckets drawn from wells or pumped by hand. And in the Pembroke Elementary School District, nearly all 742 children qualify for free daily breakfast and lunch. “On windy, snowy days, when all the other schools in the area are closed, I try to keep mine open,” says superintendent Billy Mitchell, 58. “I’ll never forget the day I closed them and a little girl walked to school and said, ‘Dr. Mitchell, if you’re closed, what am I going to eat?’” In short, says Genova Singleton, 47, a township trustee, “poverty is a fact of life here in Pembroke Township. This is a forgotten land.”
Forgotten, that is, save for the kindnesses of one man – Sal Dimiceli. Over the past 11 years he has donated $1.5 million in goods, services and cash to the people of Pembroke Township, where this year alone he has delivered 175,000 lbs. Of food, 35,000 disposable diapers, 25,000 rolls of toilet paper, 8,000 tubes of toothpaste, 7,500 pairs of shoes and 400 coats. In addition he has spent some $156,000 on home repairs and nearly $21,000 for residents’ overdue heating and electricity bills.
This explosion of generosity was inspired one day in the fall of 1989 when Dimiceli happened to take a shortcut on the way home to Chicago from a business trip. Driving past the desolate cluster of shotgun shacks and dilapidated mobile homes at the heart of Pembroke Township, he wondered why they were all abandoned. “Then,” he recalls, “I saw a pair of eyes peering back at me, and I realized there were people living inside.” Stunned, Dimiceli returned the next day and asked a local Baptist minister how many of the people needed help. The pastor’s reply: “All of them.”
That day, back in the suburban home that he shares now with his wife, Corinne, 40, and their four children, Dimiceli decided to help. Says Corinne: “Sal always had a big heart. This was something he had to do. He couldn’t turn his back on those people.” At first he and some friends made occasional visits to Pembroke with trucks full of gifts and supplies. Soon “word spread like wildfire that we were in town,” says Dimiceli. “We would drive through and people would be standing outside their houses waiting for us to come.” By 1989 Dimiceli founded the nonprofit organization, The Time Is Now. “I was so upset seeing children and the elderly freezing and going hungry,” he explains, “That I said, ‘The time is now to do something.’”


After reading about Sal and his efforts, I know I will slow down and take the time to look a bit more carefully as I travel through this life. Sal has the kind of courage that can change our world for the better.

CNN Heros profiled Sal in this wonderful video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6c8GIRxG34

You can visit Sal’s web site and learn more at: http://www.timeisnowtohelp.org/index.html

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