Huntington, N. Y. – John, who has Down syndrome, and his father created a successful business called John’s Crazy Socks. Why socks? John says they’re “fun, colorful and creative. They let me be me.” The inventory includes socks with “awareness themes” such as Autism Awareness Socks and Down Syndrome Awareness Socks. Every package includes a handwritten thank-you note from John and some candy, and a portion of earnings goes to Special Olympics. The Cronins, who say that “everything we do is designed to spread happiness,” have based John’s Crazy Socks on four pillars – “inspiration and hope, giving back, socks you can use and making it personal.”
Dallas – In 2005, Johnson founded Night of Superstars, a charity honoring special-needs children and young adults for their amazing achievements. It’s an Oscar-like, red-carpet event that involves many local celebrities. Each Night of Superstars features 20 outstanding individuals with varying types of disabilities who’ve reached far beyond their challenges. Each “superstar” receives a scholarship, and the organization works throughout the year to place its superstars in a mentorship program to help them achieve their goals. Night of Superstars is held currently in Houston, Dallas, Tyler, St. Louis and Kansas City, and plans call for New York City to be added to the list.
Houston – Manier, 22, calls himself an “eco-artist” who combines his two worlds – autism and art – into extraordinary collages. His form of therapy is to rip recycled paper into thousands of pieces and turn trash into artistic treasures. He travels and raises money by donating his art to schools, galas, conferences and the like. This effort has resulted in more than $150,000 collected for wheelchairs, hearing aids, camp tuitions and more. Last year, he and his mother began writing and illustrating a series of children’s books called Grant the Jigsaw Giraffe – Different Is More that highlights animals with special needs and their special abilities. Through his non-profit Grant More Books program, books are distributed free to children nationwide.
Boerne – Rudkin, who lost her hearing at age 3, has dedicated her life to helping the deaf and hard-of-hearing through her non-profit Aid the Silent Foundation, which focuses on deaf ministry, deaf education, deaf research and deaf resources. She also started Deaf Young Life to help and inspire high school students. Rudkin sings, plays four instruments and twice won the Miss San Antonio competition. Last May, she organized the first Good Vibrations Music and Arts Festival that featured enhancements for hard-of-hearing festivalgoers so everyone could enjoy the music. Furthermore, she has advocated for close-captioning in movie theaters and for state legislation to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing.
San Antonio – In addition to caregiving for a special-needs family member for almost four decades, the Williamses have offered their guidance and financial support to numerous San Antonio organizations serving those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. For example, they helped fund the newest group home for Reaching Maximum Independence (RMI) as well as upgraded a vital RMI fire-suppression system. They provided a new swimming pool for Mission Road Development Center and made much-needed driveway reconstruction possible at the Unicorn Center. Their generosity, which often addresses problems that arise on short notice, also has benefitted other organizations such as the DoSeum and the Mays Family Center at The Witte Museum. Earlier this year, the Williamses were named RMI Champions at the organization’s fashion-show fundraiser.