BOLIVAR, Mo. – Mary Vest enjoys time with her 24-year-old son Justin out on the family farm north of Bolivar. She and her husband, Ed, also have an older son Garrett who is 25.
The family relationship is unique and special. The four work together. Justin was diagnosed with autism just before he turned two. The diagnosis put Mary on a course that she could have never imagined. “He struggles with communication and a lot of sensory issues and a lot of behavioral struggles.”
Justin has severe non-verbal autism. Mary knows all too well the challenges, disappointments, tears and moments of pure joy of raising a child with this disorder. She is now driven to help others through similar journeys.
“I think Mary is a fantastic advocate for autism. She has lived it, breathed it and gets the education out there. She has done very well at educating all kinds of individuals that really have the need and she is definitely a star in my eyes for this award, said Jennifer Proctor.
Proctor has twin girls who were diagnosed with autism at age three. Mary works one-on-one with other parents like Jennifer, who may be struggling or need help sometimes. She is an Ambassador for “STARS for Autism.” Its a non-profit organization that helps communities become autism-friendly.
“I can’t even begin to explain the impact she has had on the Camdenton community, in Macks Creek community now, Willard and more. I mean she phenomenal. She takes this issue to heart not only because it’s personal to her but it is her passion, said Renee Kingston. She’s the Camdenton City Clerk.”
Making communities autism-friendly means working with schools, libraries, police and firefighters, businesses, like restaurants and training employees about the importance of inclusion and passion. KOLR10 interviewed Vest while she was training teachers in Macks Creek.
“If we can start at a very early age, educating our kiddos to be friends with those with all kinds of differences it will make a difference.
I mean these training can have an impact a ripple effect beyond what I could possibly ever know that makes me, that makes me very proud.”
Vest has also volunteered for House of Hope, the domestic violence, sexual assault shelter in Bolivar.