Tag: Debra Vines

James Harlan, Advocate For Families With Special Needs, Dies At 71

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: James Harlan, left, with his son, Jason. | Photo submitted 

James Harlan, the president and founder of the Just for Men group, an affiliate of the Answer Inc., a prominent autism awareness nonprofit founded by his wife, Debra Vines, has died. In a Facebook post uploaded Monday, Vines said that her husband died on May 13. He was 71.

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A Local Nonprofit Delivers Higher Learning For Disabled Adults

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews  

Featured image: Spectrum University student Rashae Tillman hugs Marla Skinner, Spectrum University’s director of programs during a break in the class on Jan. 13. | Sara Minor 

Several weeks ago, Candra Chavda had an epiphany. Chavda — a dance and exercise instructor with the Music N Me program, which caters to young adults with autism and other developmental disorders, ages 20 to 40 — had been having some difficulty connecting with 30-year-old Christopher Joey Gray.

Continue reading “A Local Nonprofit Delivers Higher Learning For Disabled Adults”

Broadview Declares Sept. 25 Autism Day

Monday, September 25, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Debra Vines, founder of The Answer Inc., and her son, Jason, who is autistic. | Photo courtesy Debra Vines

Earlier this month, Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson presented Debra Vines, the founder of the Answer Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides support services for autistic individuals and their families, with a proclamation declaring Sept. 25 Autism Day in Broadview.

Continue reading “Broadview Declares Sept. 25 Autism Day”

Autism Awareness Leader, the Focus of a PBS Special, Uses Maywood, River Forest to Illustrate Disorder’s Racial Divide

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A PBS NewsHour segment profiles Debra Vines, below left, James Harlan and their adult son Jason Harlan, pictured above during his childhood years. | Screenshot

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 9.22.05 PM.pngTuesday, February 7, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

Debra Vines, the founder and executive director of the Forest Park-based nonprofit The Answer, Inc., looked into the camera with a disarming smile to put autism and other mental impairments on notice.

They may exist, but they won’t define those who have them — especially not her son, Jason Harlan.

“Jason is going to be the first autism model on the cover of GQ magazine,” Vines told special correspondent John Donvan in a PBS NewsHour segment that aired Tuesday night.

PBS profiled Vines, her son Jason and her husband James Harlan for the segment, called “Children of color with autism face disparities of care and isolation.”

“When you’re black and autistic, you face a set of disparities,” Donvan said during a voice-over narration set against footage of the family preparing food in their kitchen.

“They begin with the fact that, when it comes to autism, diagnosis skews white,” the correspondent says bluntly, summarizing the analysis of Laura Anthony, a neuropsychologist with the Children’s National Medical Center.

“If you’re anything other than a 7-year-old white boy, even if you’re a 7-year-old white girl, you’re less likely to be identified with autism,” Anthony said.

To illustrate that racial chasm, Vines took Donvan to a bridge along Madison Street that spans the Des Plaines river and is like an invisible wall separating predominantly black Maywood and predominantly white River Forest.

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PBS Correspondent John Donvan interviews state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) during a Feb. 7 segment on autism’s racial divide. | Screenshot

“Once you’re in River Forest, the services for special needs are like the Holy Grail,” Vines told Donvan. “The services just open up for special rec, for education, for advocacy, for ADA.”

Pointing in the direction of Maywood, “There’s no special rec this way,” Vines said.

The segment also explores Vines motivations for starting her now well-known nonprofit, so-called, Vines said, told Donvan because of its unique mission (“so many families are always asking questions [about autism and other mental impairments], so we want to be able to provide them the answers”).

Vines told Donvan that she realized that there was something lacking in her capacity to provide for Jason, that she “doing it all wrong,” after going out of her community to a support group, where she was the only African-American. The disadvantages, she realized were “because of where [I] lived.”

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A graphic showing Center for Disease Control statistics during the FEb. 7 PBS segment. 

“Meanwhile,” Donvan noted, “she also learned that her own African-American community was not entirely accepting of Jason’s difference.”

James Harlan said that he had to also deal with the feeling of shame that he experienced during his encounters with those in his community who weren’t very sensitive to his son’s needs.

Learn more about Debra’s and James’s experiences raising their son Jason, and about their fight to bridge the racial resource and awareness gap between blacks and whites who area dealing with autism by watching the entire PBS segment here. To read more about The Answer, Inc., click hereVFP

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Annual Autism Walkathon Takes on New Importance After Funding Scare

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Participants in the 6th Annual Autism and Special Needs Walkathon gather on the Proviso East track on Sat., May 2. Photos by Angelique White. 

imageWednesday, May 6, 2015 || By Angelique White

Maywood | Good weather played a vital role in the huge turnout for the 6th Annual Autism and Special Needs Walkathon, held this past Saturday, May 2, on the track of Proviso East High School. The walk is hosted by The Answer Inc., an autism awareness and support agency.

The marque event featured entertainment, face painting, games, activities and vendors. The moderate weather (temperatures were above 70 degrees) may have been a significant factor in what organizers say was a higher turnout than is typical.

“I was overwhelmingly surprised by how many people came out,” said Debra Vines, the walk’s lead organizer and executive director of the Answer Inc. “I believe we had 350 to 400 people; it was a beautiful day.”

The walk is free for anyone to participate, but Vines said that donations are welcomed. They’re vital to funding her organization’s various programs and services, which include a support group for parents with autistic and special needs children, music therapy, first responder training (which teaches emergency technicians how to handle autistic and special needs patients in medical emergencies) and thereapeutic horseback riding.

The funds from events such as the walkathon are particularly vital to The Answer in light of state budget cuts. On April 2, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that he would suspend more than $1 million in state funding for autism programming. April 2 happened to be World Autism Day. Vines said that, in the wake of the announcement, people tried to help in whatever ways they could.

“We got a lot of telephone calls from people that just wanted to volunteer because they weren’t financially able to give anything,” Vines said. “They gave their time and that speaks volumes.”

Last week, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that he would reinstate the more than $26 million in budget cuts that he had announced in early April — the $1 million for autism funding included.

Supporters of autism awareness emphasized the walk’s intangible value.

“Events like this are important — you get to socialize and interact with other parents,” said Felicia Johnson, a retiree from North Aurora and mother of an autistic son.

Vanessa Schmitt, Director of Special needs for education at Proviso East High School, said press, research and events on autism should always be at the forefront.

“The more we see it in the news, the more we see the prevalence of it,” she said.

Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon, who attended the event as well, said he commends Vines for being such an advocate in the community.

“I just want to thank her for being a strong voice for those who don’t have a voice and for providing a service that’s really…necessary,” he said.

Vines said she is preparing for next year, which she expects will be even better than this one. She said she would like to have more sponsors and more families at the event, which means more marketing on her part.

“A lot of people came out and were from all over the Chicagoland area, but I would like to see more people from Proviso Township,” she said. VFP

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For James and Jason, Autism the Source of a Lasting Bond

Thursday, March 26, 2015 || By Angelique White 

James Harlan says the love he has for his family is what drives him to take care of his 27-year-old autistic son Jason while his wife, Debra Vines, runs their non-profit, The Answer, Inc., an organization for parents with autistic children.

Harlan is the president of the Just for Men group, an affiliate of the Answer Inc. He deals with fathers and men like himself, providing them with the support and resources necessary for caring for loved ones who have autism. He says being the main caretaker for the last seven years came easy  to him due to the support of his wife. He credits her for working with James when he was younger and getting him to the point where he is mostly self-sufficient. Harlan says Jason can make up his bed, take out trash, cook, clean and do laundry–all with minimal assistance.

“Watching Jason has made me appreciate the little things in life that I use to take for granted,” says Harlan.

Harlan recalls the time doctors told him that Jason would never talk or even do most of the things he does already.

“I tell people doctors practice medicine, it’s not a perfected art they’re still learning, they’re still practicing it,” says Harlan.

This is also what he tells some of the men in his support group. He encourages them not to just accept what the doctors tell them and just hang their heads low. He tells them to work with their children and have faith.

“My wife and I refuse to accept when limitations are put on people,” Harlan. Harlan says if he had half the guts his son has to accomplish things, he would probably be a millionaire. He describes Jason as extremely fearless.

Harlan says it’s been about a year since he’s been ‘out with the guys’, but he doesn’t miss that part of his life.

“I would rather be here with him knowing that he’s happy, he’s cared for and he’s safe,” says Harlan. “I like being with him, he’s a good guy.”

Harlan says he’s hopeful they can get Jason to a point where he can live on his own, but with assistance. Harlan says nowadays he lets Jason take the lead in most things so that his son can feel self-reliant. He says he doesn’t want Jason to be totally dependent on another person.

“I don’t want him to feel like he needs me, because me and his mom aren’t always going to be here,” he says. “According to nature I should die before Jason so he has to be ready when that time arrives and he’s going to have to take care of himself.”. VFP

On May 2, 2015, at 12 PM, The Answer Inc., will hold its annual walk-a-thon to raise funds for children with autism. Click here for more information.

Real Love: A Mother’s Search for Ways to Cope With Her Son’s Autism Leads to Answers for Thousands of Others, Too

Debra Vines and her son Jason(Debra Vines,55, with her son Jason Harlan, 26. Photo courtesy of Debra Vines).

the answer

Monday, August 18, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

Updated: August 19, 2014

FOREST PARK — Every morning that he wakes up, Jason Harlan, 26, says his name and smiles. His mother, Debra Vines, 55, says that this genuineness is one of the principal joys of raising Harlan, who was diagnosed as an infant with low-functioning, non-verbal autism, a developmental disorder that affects a person’s socialization and behavior. The spectrum of cases ranges from mild to severe. Symptoms in an infant include an inability to make eye contact, inexplicable babbling, unusual emotional isolation and extremely aggressive behavior. The technical medical symptoms, however, don’t cover the deeper ones–such as unconditional love.

“Jason doesn’t just give me a hug because he’s manipulating me to get some gym shoes,”  Vines said. “The love is so real.  He doesn’t know the pains of the world, because he doesn’t age. Jason is always happy, unless I’m unhappy. He doesn’t know anything is wrong with him; in fact, he probably thinks everything is wrong with everyone else! But he does feed off my emotions, so I try to keep a happy face all the time.”

But maintaining that happy face hasn’t always been easy considering the challenges and sacrifices of raising an autistic child — from the financial burden it places on parents to the emotional drain it causes, often times from the strained finances.

“Think about how much it costs to raise a normal child,” Vines said. “Now double that, especially if you’re trying to do it the right way. Right now, Jason is 26 and we just paid for him to take drum lessons. For recreational services alone, we spend about $600 per month, just to make him better at everything else he does. A lot of doctors don’t accept Medicaid for extra therapies, so we pay out of pocket. A lot marriages break up, because of the stress level and money issues. My husband and I didn’t go on a date for like eight years. We just recently found somebody good enough to leave him with. But we can’t just get out and do things like normal people do.”

The mountain of challenges, albeit intermingled with those unique joys, is what motivated Vines to found an organization in 2007 dedicated to helping parents in her position who are often bewildered by the complex of decisions and questions involved in raising a developmentally disabled child. Naturally, she called it The Answer, Incorporated.

“I just didn’t want any other families to go through what I went through,” Vines said from her office inside of Living Word Christian Center’s Joseph School of Business in Forest Park. “Our organization holds the family’s hand throughout the entire journey. For instance, when I was calling a lot of agencies for Jason, I would get a recording. Our families are going through enough–from the shame to the blame to feeling guilty–they don’t want to be on hold all day. They don’t know you can just Google a lot of this information. They’re dealing with so much already.”

Since the organization’s founding, The Answer, Inc., has grown to reach about 1,000 families a year in Proviso Township and beyond through various support groups, advocacy programs and events. Vines hosts a TV show on CAN TV once a month; regularly refers families to partner entities, such as Loyola University Medical Center and Proviso Leyden Council for Community Action (PLCCA), as part of her ongoing role as resident case worker; directs the planning of the organization’s annual Autism Walk, which raises funds to send participants, aging 7 to 50, to horseback riding camp for a week through a program sponsored, in part, by Special Camps.org; and is working on the implementation of an Autism & Special Needs Resource Center to open soon at the Broadview Library.

She does all of this, for the most part, alone, working full-time with limited funding, but seemingly unlimited motivation. The present magnitude of her work, however, wasn’t exactly inevitable.

“All of that just started with a support group,” said Vines, who with her husband moved to the western suburbs from Chicago when Jason was three years old, so that he could enroll in Proviso-Area Exceptional Child (PAEC).

“I never thought it would get to this level, but it’s went from support to advocacy to recreation. When we throw our events, we make them feel like rock stars. We do three dances a year and the kids look forward to them. The community knows that if they call us, they’ll get an answer to their question and if we can’t give it to them immediately, we’re going to find it eventually,” she said.

Perhaps one of the most important services her organization offers to parents is its persistent dismantling of the stigma associated with autism and other disabilities, such as down syndrome and ADD, similar to it. Vines said that many disabled children are often vulnerable to bullying and scams. She said that this is natural with greater exposure to the outside world. Jason, for instance, aged out of PAEC when he was 22, leaving the responsibility for his care and monitoring almost squarely on the shoulders of his parents. Vines and her husband were able to provide the kind of care their son needed, but other parents aren’t as fortunate.

Day programs for adults with disabilities can cost as much as $100 a day, money that most parents Vines works with don’t have–leaving them with a tragic choice between not working to care for their adult kids or leaving the kids to practically raise themselves.

“We had a baby boom of children who aged out of school in the last couple of years,” Vines said. “A lot of them are able to walk around, but they’re targets for bullying and manipulation. Just last week, one of my students got conned out of his ATM card. If they’re not in a day program when their parents have to work, it’s back to zero. A lot of families have gone homeless, because they have to stay at home with the kids.”

So Vines decided that if her kids couldn’t find complete shelter from the world, The Answer would have to try and make the world ready for them. Her organization has conducted bullying prevention at Proviso East, first responder training catered to individuals with developmental disabilities with area fire and police departments, and has even developed a YouTube documentary on anti-bullying called STOPP (Students Opposing Peer Pressure).

“If you’re not aware of something and don’t see something often, then you become afraid of it. There’s a lack of awareness and education in our community,” she said. “

This year, The Answer partnered with PLCCA to provide summer employment to individuals, ages 16 to 24, with developmental disabilities, with 40 percent of that program’s hires comprising disabled persons. The program’s funding was made possible by the advocacy of State Sen. Kimberly Lightford.

“A lot of our children can’t just go out and get a job. Some of them still can’t even count change from a dollar, but they can pick up a box and stack it,” Vines said.

In addition to the jobs program, The Answer has partnered with State Sen. Kimberly Lightford and the Black Star Project to provide educational and functional training to disabled students. The organization also provides instruction in areas such as healthy cooking, dance and music.

Vines’s husband also has a group called Just for Men, in which 15 to 20 fathers of developmentally disabled children get together once a month to bond and come to grips with the initial shame and disappointment with the burden of raising such a child–disappointment that Vines said ultimately turns into appreciation.

Since 2007, her life’s passion has grown to encompass about 15 parent ambassadors who actively promote awareness and understanding about developmental disabilities throughout the community; three interns who help  Vines out during the summer; and a burgeoning young ambassadors club that is currently in the works. It will comprise student ambassadors from Proviso East, Proviso Math and Science Academy and St. Joseph’s Academy, who will promote awareness about disabilities among their peers. Vines believes that changing the thinking of youth, whose minds are still being molded and whose prejudices haven’t yet settled in, will only become that much more important as the diagnoses increase.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have children, but who are still directly impacted by developmental disabilities,” she said. “At some point in time you’re either going to have a neighbor or a distant cousin or somebody close to you diagnosed. The latest number for the Center for Disease Control is 1 in 68 people with autism. So, we’re adamant about getting information out there about who we are, where we are and how we can help.” VFP

For more information on The Answer Inc., or to purchase tickets to the organization’s upcoming fundraising gala on September 14, click here.

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