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RosaLee Perez was a widowed grandmother caring for multiple grandchildren and working two jobs when one day she received a phone call that changed her life. The call came from social services while she was at work, asking her to care for her great-granddaughter. "They asked me if I knew Giuliana. I said yes, and they said well, you have two choices. You have to pick her up by 10, if you don’t she’s going into a foster home. I didn’t even think twice," says RosaLee, recalling that day.
Having barely even met Giuliana before, and having not had a baby in the home for decades, RosaLee worked hard to make sure she had everything she needed. RosaLee recalls, "She had never worn shoes before, until I got her. So I thought, well, we gotta get you some shoes. She was just a baby, and she had never worn shoes. I was told she doesn’t like shoes, and I said 'oh, that’s because she hasn’t had any!' So we went to Brown’s, and she let them fit her for a pair of shoes, and boy she was proud. First pair of shoes! But then after that when we would go buy her shoes, she wouldn’t let them touch her! So I would measure her foot by my hand."
It quickly became obvious that Giuliana, who she quickly started calling Gigi, showed signs of autism. RosaLee was struggling as it was, and knew she needed help. Two of her grandsons were involved in programs at The Matthews House, so she was connected with an Early Childhood Be Ready Navigator. This position, funded by United Way of Larimer County, is intended to provide resource navigation for families with children as it relates to Early Childhood (birth through age 8) and being ready for school. This often includes childcare, educational resources to help the child prepare for kindergarten, and in RosaLee and Gigi's case, access to services related to Gigi's autism.
Luckily, the Be Ready Navigators are a part of United Way of Larimer County's Be Ready collaborative team, whose purpose is to work towards a future in which all children in Larimer County will be successful in school. They work collaboratively to create and sustain ready children, ready families, ready schools, and a ready community. RosaLee's Be Ready Navigator Lisa Auer (one of three different Navigators RosaLee has worked with over the last few years) attended one of the Be Ready collaborative's meetings, and met a representative from CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders). Because of this meeting, Lisa was able to set RosaLee up with CARD, who now work with Gigi daily on her speech and behavior. She qualified for 30 hours a week of in-home autism-related treatment and care, which has done wonders for her social and communication skills.
Thanks to RosaLee's dedication and love, Gigi has made a lot of progress over the last few years. “When I first met her, [Gigi] would not come close to me. RosaLee would tell me that when they went to grocery stores that [Gigi] would scream, and she couldn’t even take her grocery shopping. Today, Gigi can go to the grocery store. She is actually not screaming or terrified of the experience, but running for the favorite part she has in the store, which can also be a little difficult. She is starting to have speech and become verbal; it’s taking time, but it is happening. She is much more able to express her feelings and care for other people by giving hugs and not being scared of others around her," says Lisa Auer, RosaLee's Be Ready Early Childhood Navigator.
Giuliana will start kindergarten at Bacon Elementary school this fall, a school that specializes in integrating children with special needs.
Copyright 2015 United Way of Larimer County