HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- In her five short years on earth, Audrey Putnam has been facing tall odds.
“She is just the happiest most little girl around. She is a ray of sunshine,” said Audrey’s mom, Katie. “She finds the joy in the little things of life I guess.”
Katie Putnam said her daughter, who has trouble communicating, yearns to have friends.
“About three years ago she was diagnosed with autism. It was a shock,” said Katie. “We’ve learned a lot and Audrey has progressed beautifully, But we still have every day challenges.”
One of those challenges is fitting in. Most team sports for Audrey are out of the question.
“We didn’t know where we’d be welcomed. It wasn’t easy for us to go out and find,” said Katie.
So Katie and her friends, whose children are also on the autism spectrum, are taking action.
That's how Hope Stars League RVA was born this spring.
“Our kids need a little extra help. A little extra support. So a typical soccer team would not be a good fit for us,” said Katie.
Every Saturday morning, young players hit the pitch. At this weekly soccer match, the final score and rules don’t matter.
For Jill von Herrmann, the new league gives children like her daughter Mary and fellow parents an outlet.
“There is always going to be the worry, but doing it together just gives you that strength that we can do this and we can do this together,” said Jill.
While it is all play on the field, parents like Ann Kathryn Johnson are serious about their mission.
“They’re just special kids,” said Ann Kathryn. “When you have a young child, and so much hope and you get that diagnosis it is devastating. It is devastating because your lives instantly change.”
The three moms are pushing to build an Eliza Hope Therapy Center in Richmond.
“We want a place that everyone feels happy and cheerful and it is going to be so exciting,” said Ann Kathryn.
The flagship Virginia Beach location provides families support and therapies under one roof.
The center was named after Eliza Hope; a four-and-a-half-year-old who lived with autism and passed away from epilepsy.
“I am just thankful that there are like-minded moms that can come together and make things happen,” said Ann Kathryn.
The parents say a central Virginia location would be a game changer for children on the autism spectrum.
“I think it is helping parents because they’re feeling less alone in their journey. They feel like their child has a community to be a part of,” said Jill von Herrmann.
Until an Eliza Hope Therapy Center rises in Richmond, parents and their pint-sized players will gather each week.
“We found something that was missing for our children and found a way to make it work,” Katie said.
Developing as athletes, and growing as children. They are a team of All-Stars worthy of the World Cup.
“Everyone is a winner on our field,” said Katie. “We celebrate it all.”
The Hope Stars League meets every Saturday morning at 10:30 at Longan Elementary School in Henrico. Parents with children on the autism spectrum are invited to participate and go for gold.
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