MENTOR, Ohio (WJW)– For the past four weeks, we have been introducing you to the most remarkable women of Northeast Ohio.
It is part of our contest that recognizes both local and national women across the country for their amazing deeds.
Today, we are meeting Jenna Newman of Mentor.
Jenna Newman didn’t know a lot about autism until her son Tommy was born. But she learned quickly as she worked to protect a little boy who was different from other children, but just as amazing.
“People don’t realize that there are programs for our kids, but not nearly enough for the typical kids,” she said.
One of those programs that Newman found missing was training for first responders who may come in contact with a child with special needs.
Tommy is non-verbal so unless you know that, communicating with him or another child like him could be difficult in an emergency. That’s why Newman approached the Mentor Fire Department about bridging that gap.
“I found out that Fireman Jerry was doing a firefighter story time at Mentor library, and so I contacted him and brought up the idea of doing one for just special needs kids. And he said, ‘Yeah let’s do it,'” Newman said.
That story time in Mentor turned into other story times with Willoughby, and other fire and police departments in Lake County, where first responders got to meet children with autism and learn how to communicate.
Newman then took things a step further. She created kits for the first responders to keep in their vehicles in case they needed to help a child with special needs.
“With cars going by, that could be loud to the kids too so you just put this on their heads. Sunglasses, the lights to the police cruisers, the fire trucks, the sunlight that could be bothersome. And and we have dry erase board so firefighters could draw pictures,” she said.
Newman made sensory kits that are now riding in fire trucks and police cars around Lake County. She also created a set of talking cards. These are keychain-sized pictures that can help first responders communicate with a child who has special needs.
“There are five different categories. We have short commands: stop, quiet. We have the first responder items: police officers, fire truck, hospital bed,” she said.
She’s also established support groups for autism families and set up community outing so that children with autism can be included in sports or other activities
For the past few years, she takes it upon herself to support a fundraiser in her community every month. She said there are a lot of small local charities like food banks, veteran’s assistance, or children’s causes that can always use help.
Newman calls them, finds out what they need and uses her own home as a collection point. She spends a month helping a charity raise funds, canned goods, clothing and more.
She said there are so many people who need help, and by stepping up and getting the word out there, you can do quite a bit.
“Ones that I haven’t heard about and I just help them get the word out about them so people can help. There’s so many in the world that might not have heard of this and I’m like, ‘OK, that sounds like a good cause so let’s help them out.'”
Newman said she doesn’t consider what she done remarkable. She considers it something that you should do if you see a need that is going unfilled. She said it’s not hard to help others, you just have to start and not wait for someone else to step up.
“Always help someone because you might be the only one who does. Don’t judge people because you don’t know what their situation is. And just smile at people sometimes people just need a smile to continue on with their day and just be nice.”
Tune in Thursday, April 1, to find out who this year’s ‘Remarkable Woman of Northeast Ohio’ is.