My name is Erin O'Loughlin, founder of the future 3 Irish Jewels Farm. My husband, Colm O'Loughlin, and I are parents to three really great kids. Colm is from County Galway, Ireland, hence the name "3 Irish Jewels." We currently live in Cary, NC, just outside of Raleigh. Marcus, our middle "jewel," is 8 years old and was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Autism is the most common developmental disability, affecting 1 in 88 births. A decade ago, the rate was thought to be about 1 in 2500 births. Given the fact that autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S., it is important for the general public to understand that in our very near future, an extremely large portion of our society is going to be faced with a dilemma. Parents of children with autism are not offered many viable options for their children once they age out of the school system, and it has become increasingly clear that conventional developmental disability services for adults are not effective.
As Marcus matures, Colm and I are weighing the options of what his needs might be as an adult. One thing is certain, he will most definitely be needing assistance throughout his life. Over the past several years, I have had the honor of meeting some wonderful friends and confidants of other children with autism, and I have especially listened to those with teens and adult children with autism. The fact is plain and simple: Our nation as a whole is not doing enough for our adults with special needs. So, wanting to secure a future for Marcus, while at the same time knowing first-hand how frustrating it is to find extracurricular activities in our area for special needs children, the seed of an idea began to sprout in the back of my mind... an assisted living farm for adults with autism, along with after school programs and respite care for children and adults with autism. And anyone who knows me, knows this: Once I get an idea stuck in my head, it's full speed ahead.
As the Irish luck would have it, I graduated from Wake Forest University with a double major in Philosophy & Psychology, fully intending on getting my PhD and becoming a college professor.... and that never happened. Instead, I stumbled into marketing and fundraising, and 20 years later I can now say that I have worked in the field of development and marketing with many various organizations; from public television, to private schools, to private hospitals, to my own personal accomplishment: raising over $17,000 for Sabrina, the beautiful black Labrador Retriever - Marcus's autism service dog. I have coordinated major fundraising initiatives, planned enormous special events, and have designed and implemented operating budgets and million dollar capital campaigns. So I bring with me work experience, life experience as a parent juggling three children close in age, and loads of strength and passion due to living life with autism in the family. Autism adds an element of something indescribable to the family dynamics - it definitely presents challenges, but it has given me an incredible amount of strength, a strong sense of humor, a greater tolerance for all humankind, and an ability to fight for what is right in life. And finally, my other two children, ages 6 and 11, attend a Montessori school, a philosophy and teaching method of which I am a very firm believer. I think this quote by Dr. Maria Montessori pretty much sums it up for me: "Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities."
So... here I am. I'm currently knee-deep in muddling through the process of starting a non-profit organization, 3 Irish Jewels Farm. In the meantime, please help spread the word to everyone and anyone out there who might have a vested interest in this project. It's going to take a lot of time, money and energy and I can use all the help I can get. Thank you to all of my friends and family who have supported me through the beginning stages of this crazy idea, and who I know will continue to support me to the end.