August 12, 2022 y Carol Britton Meyer
Raising Harts, a non-profit started by Cohasset mother Candice Hartford, focuses on connecting neurodiverse children and their parents and siblings with other families who share similar challenges in order to provide support and encouragement to one another, to share resources, and to enjoy a variety of activities within a safe, judgment-free environment.
The word "neurodiverse" relates to children diagnosed with autism, Tourette Syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia, epilepsy, hyperlexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and developmental delay.
A recent outing at Cohasset Sailing Club is an example of the kinds of happy, inclusive experiences Raising Harts families are sharing that make a difference in their lives.
"This was an incredible event," Hartford told the Cohasset Anchor. "It was more than I could have ever asked for -- the staff and instructors were great." The 13 sailors ranged in age from 6 to 14.
"CSC took so much away from this event, and our instructors got so much out of it," Commodore Deb Johnson told the Cohasset Anchor. "We look forward to making it a yearly tradition."
Each child and a parent went for a sail out of Cohasset Harbor with a CSC instructor in one of the Club's training fleet RS Quests.
The families also had an opportunity to interact with Hingham Police Department comfort dog, Opry, and her handler -- Hingham High School Resource Officer Thomas Ford -- along with Trish Morse from the Cohasset Working Dog Foundation and canine ambassador Parker, which added to the fun.
This event was made possible through a generous grant from South Shore Music Circus.
South Shore-based Raising Harts is open to all families, from those who are already active within neurodiverse communities to others who may be feeling overwhelmed about a new diagnosis for a family member.
The mission is to grow a warm, supportive, and empowering community for families with neurodiverse children in which they can enrich their lives and grow together.
Hartford created Raising Harts on behalf of her twin boys, Keaton and Grady (now age 6) -- who are both on the autism spectrum -- and their sister, Isla, who is now 4 -- after she, her husband, Kenny, and their family moved to Cohasset in 2016.
"Kenny and I wanted to do something for the autism community from our firsthand experiences as parents of two children with autism and a sibling [affected by it]," Hartford said. "We felt very alone at the time."
While the twins participated in the Cohasset Public Schools integrated preschool at Osgood School -- which Hartford called "an amazing experience" -- more was needed to help their and other families struggling with similar challenges find more inclusive activities that they could enjoy together.
After the pandemic hit -- which drastically impacted the twins' usual activities, social engagements, and therapies, it became even more important to find ways to overcome the increasing feeling of isolation, Hartford explained.
As a result, she made it her mission to create safe experiences where her and others' neurodiverse kids could just be kids and she and other mothers could just be "moms."
When the pandemic started to lift, Hartford reached out to the South Shore Community Center, which provided a place for parents with neurodiverse children and their families to get together for a meeting, which attracted families from as far away as Western Massachusetts, Plymouth, and the Cape as well as local Cohasset families.
"Some of the parents had tears in their eyes, because they hadn't had this kind of conversation before and within an environment that is supportive of the entire family," Hartford said.
The events hosted by Raising Harts introduce neurodiverse kids to new social and physical activities such as soccer and expressive dance while helping "bridge the gap between diagnosis and therapy."
Raising Harts is hosting a Speak Easy Parent Workshop Saturday, Aug. 13, at 10 a.m. in the Cohasset Learning Studio. “Speak easy” is ideal for parents of children ages 2 to 5 who are seeking the tools to help their children with speech, language, and socialization.
A mentorship program for parents is about to roll out. Information will be posted on the Raising Harts website. "We want to provide this service to the entire South Shore community to connect new parents who may be overwhelmed by the process involved with a new diagnosis, for instance and to welcome them into our community with open arms," Hartford said.
For further information, to register for Saturday's workshop, or to make a donation, visit https://www.raisingharts.com/.