Ron & Jean Thomas

In 1999, Jean gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Justin. Justin was an amazing and healthy baby, but in January of 2000, Ron and Jean started noticing Justin was not advancing like most of the other children his age. Justin had stopped rolling over, following his parents with his eyes and playing with his hands. They took their son to several doctors, but none really had an answer for what the issue was. Eventually in June 2004, Justin was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. At the time, there was very little information about Autism, and even worse, there was also very little help available to families. Once diagnosed, the hospital basically left the Thomases to fend for themselves, to find resources and assistance completely on their own.

Over the years, the Thomases had to navigate a complicated system of federal, state and local government agencies as well as schools and hospitals to provide their son the best possible life that he deserved. This came with a lot of trial and error, and both difficulties and successes. At that point Ron and Jean decided that no other family that has a child afflicted with Autism Spectrum Disorder should have to navigate the troubled waters that they have already sailed; they could use their accumulated knowledge and help other families minimize the difficulties.

In 2008, Ron and Jean wanted to do something to help a community they now found themselves in. Ron is a gifted musician and member of a local band and thought that music could help. The Thomases created a benefit concert for Autism called “Breaking the Silence.” With the help of many generous donors and volunteers they established an annual concert to spread the awareness of Autism and give back to the community. Since then, Breaking the Silence has raised over $50,000 to help many other not-for-profit charities such as Autism Society of Illinois, Autism Speaks, and New Horizon Center for Developmental Disabilities and Autism, as well as others.

After years of trudging through paperwork and evaluations, Jean still found that parents didn’t really know what rights they have or what options are out there for a newly diagnosed autism child. She decided she would share her experience and knowledge to help parents learn to advocate for their children in the government and school systems to get the much needed help they are entitled to. While donating money from Breaking the Silence was helpful, Ron and Jean wanted to do something more directly to help families, children and caregivers of those affected by Autism. Discussing her concerns with Ron, he suggested she look into creating her own organization to directly assist those that need it most free of charge.

With the donations of many generous people including Jeremy Heatley of Morbid Stix, Mark Kossak and Michael DeAngelis, the Thomases were able to turn that vision into an actual nonprofit, Chicago Autism Resource and Education, NFP (C.A.R.E.). With the help of an amazing group of volunteers, C.A.R.E. has donated over $90,000 to continue helping those other charities, in addition to helping parents directly through providing education, resources and advocacy with the goal of making families better advocates for themselves. While this is only the beginning, it has been an amazing start!