Funding a Brighter Future

Camille and Francesca (prom co-organizer) at the Montgomery County school's first prom, in 2015Ever since their daughter Camille, 19, was a little girl, Shelly and Joe Galli have worried about her future. Diagnosed with autism when she was a toddler, Camille has attended Kennedy Krieger’s Montgomery County school for children with developmental disorders since she was 10. “We love the school—the quality of education and support offered by the staff is so amazing,” Shelly says. “The kids are respected and have a community, but when they turn 21, state funding to attend the school ends.”

Knowing that young adults with autism and other related developmental disorders often struggle to find employment, and can benefit from further education and vocational training after turning 21, Shelly and Joe met with Dr. Robin Church, the Institute’s vice president for educational programs, to find out how they could help get an over-21 program started at the school.

“Dr. Church said if we raise the money, she’ll make it happen,” Shelly says. Since last summer, Shelly and Joe have raised nearly $800,000, both for the over-21 program and for the school itself, by asking people whom they know are in a position to give, to give what they can. They’ve been thrilled by the response, and they’re excited that the new program, named CORE Foundations, is slated to start this fall, with up to 12 participants.

Shelly and Joe GalliFundraising in support of programs for individuals with autism is not new to the Gallis. Their oldest daughter, Bella, 21, has fundraised for Autism Speaks, and their youngest daughter, Francesca, 17, helped organize and fund the first prom for Camille and her classmates at the Montgomery County school three years ago. The prom has since become an annual event funded, in part, by the Bike to the Beach foundation.

One of the training components of the new over- 21 program will be a cafe where program participants can practice and hone their baking, culinary and business skills. This means a lot to the Gallis, because Camille loves to bake. She’s a stellar cookie-maker who wants to learn how to make all kinds of confections, Shelly says. There are also plans for a greenhouse, where students will learn how to grow herbs, which will be used in the cafe. The cafe, like the over-21 program overall, “will be a viable way for these young adults to earn money and start a wonderful career,” Shelly says, “and do it on their timeline.”

Visit KennedyKrieger.org/Over21 to read more about postsecondary transition programs at the Institute.