There are two important parts into which the life of a person with autism can be divided.
Life with parents and Life after parents
Sangeetha and V.Chakrapani are parents to quadruplets, of whom two children – Jayashree and Krishna are neurotypical and two children – Lakshmi and Jayanthi experience autism. Sangeetha Chakrapani began to work seriously on planning for the adult years of her daughters when they were still children, barely 7 years old. The overriding concerns were
1. Life beyond academics
2. Building functional communication skills
3. Building self help skills
4. How are we going to maintain a good quality of life in terms of their emotional wellbeing after the lifetime of their parents.
These concerns, she realized were common to many, many families with autism.The space for setting up Together Foundation was given by CP (V.Chakrapani) who had purchased that particular property with the belief that something useful could be done some day. CP roped in an architect to redo the space from scratch and made a bright colourful space available to work in.
Kiran Khalap is the architect who gave expression to their dreams. He created the brand identity and gave the founding philosophy for the organization to work with.
People of great generosity, calibre and wisdom joined the Chakrapani family in creating the pathway for the Foundation to do the work that it is doing today. Prof.Emeritus Dr.Y.K.Amdekar, Dr.Anjali Tendulkar, Ms.Sheela Sinha and Ms. Jaya Rangarajan joined hands with the organization at this point of time.
Together Foundation was registered as a public charitable trust. Prof.Emeritus Dr.Y.K.Amdekar honoured the organisation by joining as Trustee. He proceeded to invite his dear friend and protégée Dr.Anjali Tendulkar to become Trustee of Together Foundation. When Dr.Anjali Tendulkar became Trustee, she empowered the organisation to offer services to families that could not afford to pay fees. This was one of the greatest areas of responsibility for making an institution accessible to all.
Ms.Sheela Sinha, who had retired as Director – Education, Helen Keller Institute of Deaf and Deafblind accepted the Foundation’s request to join as Trustee. Ms.Sinha coming on board gave the organisation the immense benefit of her guidance and mentoring across all areas of work.
Many parents came and went, marvelled at the programme but were extremely apprehensive about giving up rote academic learning. The space created at Together Foundation was for people with autism to move forward, to learn new things, rather than wasting precious time trying to learn something that was not an area of potential.
The Foundation was constantly on the lookout for other work opportunities, given that working in the bakery would not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s when Together Foundation was given job work by Creative Handicrafts, an organization that empowers economically challenged women and brings out a line of clothing and handicrafts. The young adults at Together started sorting and tying labels together for them. This work is one of the most non-stressful, methodical work opportunities for the team at Together Foundation.
Talktime, one of Together’s most successful programmes, was conceptualized in this year. It provided a platform for people with autism to communicate about things that they experienced in their daily lives, it extended its bandwidth and was customized for non-verbal people who point, people who sign, people who speak very little and for people who can speak effortlessly.
Together Foundation had expanded to a full-fledged bakery with commercial size equipment, paper plate manufacturing unit and an initiative for block printing paper bags. There were now 8 students, two special educators and two support staff. A shop registered under the Shop and Establishments Act 1961 was launched in the premises of Together Foundation – providing an opportunity to retail the different kinds of products being made at the centre.
This year saw the beginning of the Phone programme, a painstaking exercise of every adult making a video call with teachers and later with family members, three times a week. This programme is designed to help people with autism to build and nurture relationships with family members and friends by learning to communicate over phone.
The organisation had started making its presence felt and relationships with the community around were forged. People came over to celebrate festivals and events with the young adults. Together was joined by a group of bright and committed volunteers. Workshops, orientations programmes and training for families with special needs were conducted by the Foundation.
The bakery had expanded to include many more products with a dedicated chef to train the teachers and students.
The teaching programme had expanded to include computer skills and shop management skills.
Together Foundation was granted exemption under Section 80g of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
The Foundation had expanded to 24 students. A formal computer training programme in association with Sujaya Foundation was begun.
HDFC Bank was approached and agreed to give the young adults an opportunity to start data entry for them. Multi faith weekly meetings- Balvikas classes for people with special needs was begun. The Foundation received financial support from Tata Investment Corporation Ltd and Perowshaw Dhunjhishaw Bolton Charities. Along with Dr.Anjali Tendulkar’s ongoing financial support, this was a landmark year for Together Foundation to offer certain programmes entirely free of cost. The Foundation could also nominate deserving adults with disabilities for internships.