WHATELY, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to show support and raise awareness about the fastest-growing developmental disability.
Living with autism can be tough for some people and their families.
"Noah is three, and," Mara Childs tells us. "Was diagnosed when he was two."
According to the Center for Disease Control, autism is prevalent in about one in fifty-nine births in the United States.
Today, we're highlighting two local families impacted, Mara Childs and her son, Noah, and Heidi Vorce and her 16-year-old daughter, Zoey, who was diagnosed with autism and Cerebal Palsy.
"Noah tends to be a flight risk," continued Mara. "He really likes to run off and climb over our fence at home, and not really stay with us in public."
"She loves to do different things, and," says Heidi. "Be around different people, but, a lot of times, it's difficult, because, a lot of times, new situations or ones familiar to her just become overwhelming."
Both families believe they're in a final interview with Heroes, Horses, and Hounds, a non-profit in Whately that rescues horses and dogs, training some as service animals.
They're hoping to get Baloo, a service dog in training, to help with those difficult times.
"I'm hoping, with this opportunity," said Heidi. "We'll be able to experience more and do more in our community."
"We're hoping now," stated Mara. "When he's three, it'll be a tool for us parents, and, as he gets older, the dog will help with things he needs. Right now, it's really about safety."
What they don't know is why Western Mass News is really here.
The average cost of a service dog is between $25,000 and $50,000, a huge burden the Big Y Surprise Squad is hoping to help with.
Founder Colleen Campbell admits it's a tough choice.
Baloo, ultimately, fit best with Zoey's needs, a big "who rescued who" opportunity.
"I think," added Heidi. "It'll give Zoey more confidence to do the things she wants to do and likes to do in life."
Trainer Jessica Mattson says Baloo will help get Zoey out and about.
"She is such a vibrant child," Mattson tells us. "Having the opportunity to do that with Baloo will definitely open up doors."
"When he runs around the house," Zoey stated in regards to what she loves most about Baloo.
In addition to Baloo, Heroes, Horses, and Hounds also donated a dog, named Frank, to Noah.
"We are definitely surprised," said Mara.
A pup of their own to jeep Noah safe and happy.
"He doesn't have a lot of awareness of his personal safety, so," continued Mattson. "We're going to train Frank to do things, like cut him off if he's running, do a block so he can't run into the road, or alert mom if he's climbing too high."
"It's just nice to know people are so nice and helpful, and," says Mara. "They just really want to just help him."
For that, Western Mass News and Big Y wanted to help, donating $500 to help pay for the cost of both Baloo and Frank.
To help with the training costs of both Baloo and Frank, you can donate directly to Heroes, Horses, and Hounds by clicking or tapping here.