Oak Harbor mother starts nonprofit group to help people with autism

Lonnie Schopen, owner of La Lonnie’s notions on Pioneer Way, is inspired by her autistic son Jayson to organize the Get Your Feet Wet for Autism Awareness 5k run at Windjammer Park Sept. 21.  - Janis Reid / Whidbey News-Times
Lonnie Schopen, owner of La Lonnie’s notions on Pioneer Way, is inspired by her autistic son Jayson to organize the Get Your Feet Wet for Autism Awareness 5k run at Windjammer Park Sept. 21.
— image credit: Janis Reid / Whidbey News-Times

An Oak Harbor businesswoman is starting a nonprofit organization to assist the local autistic and disabled community.

Owner of La Lonnie’s Notions on Pioneer Way —and the mother of an autistic son — Lonnie Schopen has applied for nonprofit status as Autism Resources of Oak Harbor.

The application is pending.

The goal, Schopen said, is “to give back to autistic and special needs children, and help families who need help.”

“But we want to keep it local,” she added.

Schopen is organizing a 5K run and event 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sept. 21, at Windjammer Park entitled “Get Your Feet Wet for Autism Awareness.”

The event’s intention is to raise money to include new autism and special-needs-friendly playground equipment at Windjammer Park.

Moving forward, Schopen would like the organization and the event to be a gathering place for resources, fundraising and assistance for families with special needs children. Schopen’s inspiration is her autistic son Jayson, who is now 21. In addition to helping families with autistic children of all ages, Shopen she’s also interested in starting an adult daycare for those with developmental disabilities.

“It’s all about the kids and the families,” Schopen said.

As a Navy family, the Schopens are part of the Exceptional Family Member  program administered through Naval Hospital Oak Harbor. As a category five base, military families have a number of programs available to them and are assigned a case worker to assist them.

For instance, a new program offered by military insurance, Tricare, offers specialty therapy for autistic children through the ECHO program, according to Anita Giannaris, social worker with Naval Hospital.

That said, Giannaris said the Naval Hospital is hoping to continue to partner with other island community services to ensure that both military and non-military families are aware of Oak Harbor, Island County and military services.

“As far as what this community needs, that’s a longer list,” Giannaris said.

Giannaris said specialized playground equipment would be “amazing” for the Oak Harbor community because autistic and special-needs children often have sensory issues that can be addressed with equipment designed toward their needs and development.

In efforts to make her September event a success, Schopen is partnering with Island County Family Resources to ensure that all the right resource providers and vendors will be attending the event.

Family Resources Coordinator Rene Denman said that recently the county has created an Autism Taskforce with the charge of corralling resources for families facing autism.

Denman said she is eager to participate in “Get Your Feet Wet for Autism Awareness” because it will be a great way to combine the Schopen’s goals and the mission of the taskforce.

Shopen said she has scheduled a meeting with Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley and Parks Director Hank Nydam in the coming weeks to discuss placement of the new disability-friendly playground equipment at Windjammer Park. Since her nonprofit status is still pending, Schopen hopes to partner with other local non-profits to assist in fundraising.

For more information, call 360-969-1751.


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