A Message from the President
In 1992, I lost my daughter, then my mental capacity, my business and my home. Literally 24 hours from becoming homeless and on the streets with my son (then 8years old), I thought I should just end our lives.
Instead, one of my adult students flagged me down when I was driving to ‘God only knew where’ – she jumped in front of my car off the sidewalk – I came to a complete halt. She said she and her husband found a place for us to rent and we could go see it immediately and that they also made arrangements to help me take our belongings from my property to the new place.
During the few years of recovery, an autistic diagnosis and getting myself back on my feet, part of the process was to discover how I could take my PTS experience and challenge myself into a framework to continue to be of service for others. At this juncture, I had met Charlie Collura, my husband and partner in the ANCA initiative and now global brand. ANCA was the name we incorporated – a legacy for ANthony and CAtherine – a reminder of no matter how challenging life may appear, it occurs for good reason and for something yet to emerge, not yet experienced in life or the world and to which both children were instrumental in the orchestration of. ANCA is also an acronym for ANCA Network for Community Achievement or Autistic Network for Community Achievement.
I was raised to be of service to humanity and to community, which also appears to be in my family’s DNA. I have volunteered all of my life whilst developing my own career in the arts and in entrepreneurship. The journey of ANCA appeared to have its own amoebic course, we seemed to be directed every step of the way. The one and only main focus we really had when we embarked on this journey was to be of service to the adult community of autistic people, since there appeared in the 1990’s to be no place for adults to come together, express themselves, make friendships and to connect with our shared life experiences. Group gatherings expanded to speaking engagements, and further toward developing a course structure from which families, professionals and para professionals in the field of autism could directly engage with and learn from.
Every step of the emergence of ANCA was not by our design… someone would come along and ask if we would develop this or that… and so we did.
Charlie and my experience spans approximately 70 years combined. We have worked in institutions such as group homes, in the education system (public and private, and homeschool learning outreach programs), preschools, in sports and the arts, and in community programs. Most of our work was volunteer prior to ANCA and during the ANCA Consulting Inc. years outside of global contracts. However, during these years we saw a broader vision because of our life experiences as autistic people, that of our son’s and of all the people we encountered through our lifelong commitment to the autistic community (which for me was established in the mid to late 1970’s when I first embarked on teaching ballet and the performing arts).
The vision: to create an atmosphere of acceptance as people told us they experienced at ANCA. To reach the world as many parents asked us to do with our work. To pioneer a platform that enabled recognition for autistic individuals and for those in support of this emerging culture. And, to create a global opportunity for those who had no experience with autistic people, enabling them to ‘hear the autistic voice’.
Many of ANCA’s consulting clients wanted to meet what they termed ‘successful autistic people as adults’ (they wanted to experience first hand what the potential future held for their [then] children) and in 1998, we created annual mini conferences and brought in individuals predominantly from the USA to come and share their experiences as university graduates, employed adults, married adults, adults raising children who too were part of the autistic spectrum. From this platform organisations attended and sent their clients, our annual camp-out became another focal point for our guests to attend and become more a part of the ANCA family, long lasting friendships were made and the beginning of the global expansion began, without either of us being consciously aware of the direction and the infrastructure that was being developed to create the strong foundation from which the ANCA World Autism Festival and our magazine Naturally Autistic would be founded upon in 2010, fifteen years after the inception of ANCA.
As many of the early testimonials have stated (view sidebar on our website), we were on the leading edge by showcasing, sharing, and providing lived life experiences for ANCA families, professionals and paraprofessionals across British Columbia. We were building a foundation, by planting a seed, of which would develop very strong and deep roots, and with a multitude of blossoms outreaching with expansive branches. This was an analogy told to me in 1998 by a parent of a [then] adult who was in his mid thirties. This parent (who was introduced to ANCA by “The Mom from S. Africa”) was so aware based on her 35 years of experience with her son (prior to ANCA), that she recognised what was needed, what was her dream, what was possible and what ANCA was doing – even if we did not see what she was witnessing or understand the journey we were embarking upon, many did – but, it was she who told the participants and myself at one of our mini conferences, that we had planted an oak seed and this is how it would evolve. Today, we [and you] are experiencing this evolution, this expansive Global ANCA. The ANCA World Autism Festival and all the components which make up the festival is built on that mother’s desire and on all the families and professionals who made ANCA their port of call and symbolism for their understanding of family values and beliefs of humanity, a network we may all be a part of.
©Leonora Gregory-Collura June 25, 2017 – by ANCA Submissions Copyright June 2017. All rights reserved.