Nonprofit designs free program for Downriver families with autistic children

While holding their first holiday assistance program for Downriver residents in need, the community based non-profit, Mimi’s Mission, learned that a quarter of the families participating had at least one autistic child living in their home.

Founder of Mimi’s Mission, Lisa Vilella, said after talking with the families one-on-one, their struggles aren’t as uncommon as they believe.

Majority of the parents she spoke with shared their concerns and challenges of having a child diagnosed with autism.

“Many parents have no support or anyone to turn to who understand just what they are going through and they become isolated,” she said.

It was then when Villella decided to begin the Puzzle Parents program, a support group specially designed to help parents with a child on the spectrum.

Vilella said it will be a program created based on the needs of the parents. The parents will share how they need assistance then they will work on finding solutions together.

“I believe that education and awareness are the keys to these families not being hesitant to come out into the community,” she said. “We hope it will stop these families from being so isolated in a community that should be embracing them.”

A 32-year-old mother of three in Trenton said although her son’s doctor and school has been supportive through their journey, it would be helpful to talk with parents who can directly relate.

Elaine Rankin said, “It is hard for me to do something as simple as grocery shopping because of my son’s behavior… I’ve learned how to care for him while out in public but sometimes others make comments of judgment because they don’t understand what’s going on.”

“I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge while also learning from other families during this program…It is truly a blessing,” said Rankin.

Vilella is currently seeking businesses to accommodate the special needs of the children such as a grocery store – many parents have said it is difficult to bring their child with them because of the lights, noises and distractions.

“If a grocery store could designate a time to dim the lights and not have so much noise, it could be a whole new experience for the child/family who isn’t able to make it through the store otherwise,” said Vilella.

If there are any businesses interested in hosting events or providing meals or desserts for the meetings, contact

The free support group will be kicking off Feb. 6 on the first and third Monday of each month between 6 and 8 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church, 2801 1st Street, Wyandotte.

Each meeting will include dinner, volunteer childcare, open conversation and interactive demonstrations. The following Downriver cities eligible for the program include: Allen Park, Brownstown Township, Ecorse, Flat Rock, Gibraltar, Grosse Ile Township, Huron Charter Township, Lincoln Park, Melvindale, River Rouge, Riverview, Rockwood, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor, Trenton, Woodhaven and Wyandotte.

If interested in more information about the program, visit or call 844-439-6464.


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