Tractors for Autism and Disabilities Continues to do Great Things in the Community
Wednesday, September 11th, 2019 -- 2:37 pm
Posted by Riley Hebert-News Director
-Tractors for Autism and Disabilities is a non-profit foundation that provides people with disabilities an opportunity to develop their abilities to their fullest potential so they can adapt and be productive members of society.
I spoke with Mary Laschen, the Director of the group, and she talked about how they got started.
“One day, Michael Collins is his name, and his son Brendan, who live in Loyal. Mike worked with me at the time, I’m a special ed teacher here in Loyal, or I was, and he always had the dream to do something to help people out people that had disabilities, that had autism. And his goal was to get a tractor, make it blue, maybe get a $100 a year and give it out. That was it. When all was said done, he, somehow, came across a tractor that somebody wanted to donate to us. And that was going to be our “blue tractor.” He came to me and asked, ‘would you like to jump on board with this? I think you have a passion for this.’ I thought, ‘yeah! This sounds pretty cool.’"
“So, it would have been the summer of 2016 that that took place. Then we proceeded to get involved our other staff, other people we worked with. We were a very close team at the time. And so we pulled a lot of the paraprofessionals, teaching staff and whoever wanted to join us. We actually had our meetings, when we first got going, right at the Snack Shack because one of our members worked there and it just made it easier, so she could be involved even though she had to work.”
“So, we started doing that and we became an organization, like I said, in the summer of 2016. Donations kind of started coming in, even though we were the newbies on the block. And then we decided we could probably do more by becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit. So, I actually volunteered to go have paperwork drawn up in Marshfield by a person that I knew had done that kind of work before and was actually an accountant. And by December of 2016, we became a 501(c)3 non-profit. And we’ve just kind of gone from there.”
Tractors for Autism has done many activities and fundraisers since they started.
“It’s amazing how sometimes you don’t know where you’re going to go when you start something or how far you’re going to go. I know we discussed, if we stayed small and were consistent, that would be great. If we grew slowly, with time, that would be a good way to do it. Something things that were going to come, would just come. We started the 4th of July event about 3 years ago, I believe. My husband and I put on a 4th of July Youth Softball Tournament always up at the park. So, we decided to wrap what we want to do with that and make it a day for families that want to stay in town. Many people that we know do go out of town, but let's do something for the ones that stay here. So, we came up with the idea of having raffles. Well, the first year we did a silent auction and then we decided to invest in some raffle items this year. We did raffles, we had bounce houses for the kids, a DJ there, face painting. The fire department has been great, they brought their fire trucks and have stuff for the kids. And then we proceed all the way to the softball in the evening, so people would have a reason to stay. We sold the food there. And until this year, we just didn’t have the people power that we really needed and so we had another food truck come in to help us out with that.”
“This year we did add a walk for autism. We’re not sure if it’s going to stay on July 4th. We’re still discussing that. But, I’ve always wanted to do a walk, so we added it. Basically, we had about 23 walkers this year. Not a lot, but a nice beginning. We got t-shirts. We had a bout 10 sponsors. I have a niece, through marriage, who designed our t-shirts.”
“We also give out the ‘You Insipre Us’ Award that we started. And this was our second year of giving it. And it’s concerning a person, or persons, that inspire us. That make us want to go on to keep doing the work that we’re doing, to keep getting donations. And this year, I have a great-nephew that is autistic and doing unbelievable. And so I would like to give that out to him this year and to Judy Morrow, in memory of her granddaughter. We do give them in memory of people too.”
“We do do, we started last year, an after school program for kids in the area. We bring in kids up to the age of 14, but that’s just a guideline. We will take in other kids that need it. Peggy Brant, who works in Loyal and also taught with me, we kind of run the program here at the old bowling alley. And special thanks to Jamie and Travis Wolf because they allow us to do that there. And, actually, starting in late November, we had 12 that came consistently and loved it. So, we’ll be doing it again this year and we hope to grow and increase that more this year.”
“We do have a big thing that we decided on that we’re going to do. All of this came from that small meeting in July of 2016. We are now doing the ‘Blanket of Thanks’ Program. ‘Blanket of Thanks’ is with our local veterans. We decided that veterans have many disabilities, whether it’s mental, emotional, physical. They’ve done a lot for us, so let’s try and give something back to them. So, that started in, I believe, late 2016, early 2017. And, I think, we’ve given around 45 blankets to area veterans. They do not have to be a member of the Legion to get that acknowledgement. But what we do, is we had the Action Club from Neillsville help and in the Colby School District, they have a blanket factory up there in the middle school. Kids and students were making the blankets for us, many have special needs. Loyal has gotten involved with us now and they make blankets for us. We actually come and help if we need to, if there’s really a need there, but we’d rather have the kids do it. So, veterans will get that with a card that we make up and, in all honesty, it is the most rewarding thing to do, to give this blanket to somebody and see their emotions come through. So, that’s one of our big programs.”
“We are looking down the road. We have a 5-year plan. Out ultimate goal is to have a summer-based program to help youth, young ones, come in and keep their academic skills that they have moving forward strong. Not where you get back in the fall and they can’t remember what they did last year. And some of us being teachers, we can understand that! But, ultimately, it’s also to get them to learn daily skills. Maybe get them into the community and do work and help everybody out. It will be a win-win situation. Teach them with these daily skills so they can become a cleaner in the library or cleaning up the House of Mercy, with small amounts of pay down the way.”
“Just get them to be successful people in the community and society. And let people see that people with disabilities do have abilities. Kind of a big net to work with. We put our 5-year plan up every meeting to see where we’re going and, actually, we’ve gotten farther than we thought we would. We have two full time teachers, a couple paraprofessionals that come down and help us and the school district has been very backing of this program. The district will allow kids that need more assistance to be a part of the program.”
Mary also explained how you can learn more about the group or get involved.
“We have a post office box. Our address is Tractors for Autism, Post Office Box 57, Loyal, WI. We’re also on Facebook. We have a page and that and my phone number is on it right now. We also have an email address where you can contact us and it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve got a great board of directors. Peggy and Craig Brant are with us. We also kind of work the car show a little bit with them. Two of us sit on that board, so by working with them we got money that is donated to our cause.”
“Our ultimate goal is to get more programs going for these kids, younger youth in this area, and get them out where the public can see them. Working, successful adults. We have a long range goal of reaching out to a 30-mile radius and saying, ‘hey, we’ve got this going. Would you care to be a part of us?’ And again, hopefully, we’re not going to have a lot of fees involved with that. We hope that we can stand on our own two feet whether it be through donations, grants. We do some grant writing and we’ve had a few grants come through that help pay for things. We have laptops for the kids this fall for our after school program and a printer. And that’s due to some grants.”
“If anybody wants to get involved, please don’t hesitate to reach. Come, we have monthly meetings. We have switched it a little bit. I think we’ll be putting that on Facebook. We do have a new bookkeeping service now. When we started changing over and putting more money out, we went with a bookkeeping place in Neillsville that does it for us. It’s easier and they can pull things apart and as you get a little bigger, you don’t want to play with that stuff anymore. So, we decided to just get it over there right away.”
Again, you can find Tractors for Autism on Facebook.