Lilly's House Provides Support for Special Needs Families

Supporters of Lilly's House help raise awareness in the community of families with special needs. It might be a surprise to many ...

Supporters of Lilly's House help raise awareness in the community of families with special needs.

It might be a surprise to many Murrieta residents that roughly 30 percent of families in the city are identified as having at least one family member with special needs.

It's no surprise to Julia Rogoff. She is living proof of that statistic, and she makes sure others are aware of resources and concerns regarding people with special needs.

"Murrieta and Temecula are knwon for catering to the special needs family," said Rogoff, referring to the high percentage of special needs families in the area. "The area has an active autism task force where local leaders meet regularly to address the issues. There also are excellent school districts and availability of related services ... that are pulling people to this area."

Rogoff is founder and director of Lilly's House, named after her 4-year-old daughter, who has autism. Lilly's House is a network in which families affected by autism and other special needs can communicate, have access to resources and educate themselves and others.

It is also a great resource for businesses owners wishing to learn more about how they can better accommodate and provide employment opportunities for people with special needs.

Last week, Rogoff (right) addressed business executives at the monthly meeting of the Murrieta chapter of SCORE, a business networking and mentoring organization. She shared with members the specific needs of children like hers as well as benefits of hiring adults with special needs.

"People need a better understanding of how to accommodate special needs children." Rogoff said. "When I've been in businesses and my daughter is acting out, I've had customers ask me, 'Why don't you put a muzzle on her?'

"We need to educate people, including business owners and employees. If you see a customer in a wheelchair or in some way physically challenged, think about how you can arrange your space to accommodate them."

According to Rogoff, there are many things businesses can do to make the shopping experience easier for special needs customers, thereby creating a better overall environment for all consumers. These include reducing sound levels on speakers, using more subdued lighting, and honoring requests for appointments to facilitate shorter waits for children who have special needs. Credits can be given to businesses who adjust the lighting in their office so it doesn't cost them to do so, she said.

"There are several ways to improve the situation," she said. "We should be training employees on what to look for. The natural reaction is to stand back and give them a wide berth. That's not what we need. Give them a warm welcome."

These obstacles often keep special needs families from frequenting public places as often as needed, Rogoff said. Through Lilly's House and speaking engagements such as this one, she hopes to change that mindset.

"I push my families a lot to get out in the community," she said. "They have to let people get comfortable with them. We need the other 70 percent of people to embrace this part of the community."

Rogoff also spoke about the resources available to business owners in hiring special needs employees who best fit their work requirements. The Supervised Work Teams program helps businesses find special needs workers who can perform simple tasks while being monitored by an aide on the job site. Special needs employees with more specialized skills can be recruited through the Department of Rehabilitation Work Force recruitment program.

"Special needs people can do any job," Rogoff said. "Many are college educated; some have doctorates. They are proficient in things that require intense knowledge about a specific subject.

"People with autism don't want to know a little about everything; they want to know everything about one thing."

Janise Graham of Entrepreneurs Insurance Services in Corona attended the SCORE meeting. She said she emphasizes insurance services that accommodate special needs people.

"We're very engaged in the special needs community," Graham said. "Their planning is similar to others, but if it isn't done correctly, they could lose all their benefits. It's a community people shy away from, but we are reaching out to them."

The Murrieta SCORE chapter meets on the third Wednesday of the month at the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce. For more information, email k.larson@cox.net.

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