For many parents, an autism diagnosis for their child can be wracked with uncertainty. What does it mean? What happens next? Where can they go for resources?
This was the scenario that Scott and Whitney Ferguson found themselves in when their 2-year-old son, Myers “Rowdy” Ferguson, was diagnosed in 2018.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know where to go. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know how to help Myers succeed,” Scott said. “Because of all of these organizations, all the resources that were available, he is now thriving. So, we are incredibly fortunate with how well he is doing, but we want to do our part to see other kids be able to thrive and do as well as he does.”
This led to the couple forming the Rowdy Foundation in 2019.
“The Rowdy Foundation really came about because we wanted to give back to the community,” Whitney said. “(For) those that are on this journey, we wanted to make those connections easier rather than having to go and search for them. It makes one less thing that someone has to worry about.”
The organization’s first major undertaking was to bring awareness to the resources available in the area. A list of the resources available is on its website, getrowdy.org.
“The biggest thing that I really wanted to get out there was the resources that we have in the Golden Triangle,” she said. “When my son was diagnosed, I really had no idea what was available. So, I tried to compile a list of resources so people can easily go to our website and find those resources. We are more of a connection hub for anyone on this journey.”
The foundation hit an obstacle in the early days, though, as it formed on the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was not until 2021 that it could begin offering a full slate of programs and events.
The all-inclusive events are a key part of the organization’s outreach.
“As a special-needs parent, it’s not always easy to take kids to events or places where you feel like they are included,” Scott said. “We are trying to provide inclusive events for traditional developing children and special needs kids to be able to come together and enjoy each other’s company and learn to be together and socialize and interact in appropriate, positive ways.”
He added that a support group specifically for caregivers will begin on Tuesday, and it will be held at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library at 6 p.m.
“We want this group to be a place for those special caregivers to come together and be there to support each other because sometimes it’s lonely, you don’t feel like you’ve got that support,” he said. “This is a group where you’re certainly going to have that support.”
There will also be a “Rowdy Races” obstacle course on Oct. 22 at the Lowndes County Soccer Complex. It consists of an obstacle course in which all children can participate.
Ultimately, the goal of the foundation is to bridge the gap between the special-needs community and the public.
“I think it was just a piece that was missing in the community,” Scott said. “A resource to give everyone an opportunity to interact because if you’ve got a special-needs child, they may not be able to get out there and play traditional baseball or football, but there’s ways that they can interact and with time, they may be able to get out there in that traditional setting. This gives them that outlet, or it gives them a place to connect with others.”
The organization will also have some volunteer help this year. Seniors at Heritage Academy are getting involved with the group for their senior project.
“I think that’s super awesome that teenagers want to be involved in learning more about special needs and what they can do to help these kids,” he said. “Through their senior project, they’re going to be helping with a lot of the events that we are going to be putting on and they’re going to be going out and doing some outreach in the community on their own. So, I think it’s pretty exciting to see them pair up with us.”
The Rowdy Foundation recently decided to join the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce.
“Both Katie (Fenstermacher) and I come from an education environment and kids with learning disabilities are close to our hearts on a personal and professional level,” said Cathryn Borer, director for the chamber. “To have an organization like this become a part of the chamber and to give us the opportunity to promote them and all of the wonderful things they are doing is very exciting for us.”
The decision to join the chamber was an effort to expand the organization’s impact.
“We made the choice to do that just to get out there in front of more people,” Scott said. “We want the business community, the movers and shakers of Columbus to get behind this and encourage everybody to come together, to be there for those kids whether they’ve got special-needs or not, to support and come together as a community.”
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