I began cooking nine years ago after watching Paula Deen on television. As a wife and mother of four children, cooking became a passion that I have been able to share with my children. James, our youngest son, was diagnosed with Austism Spectrum Distorder in April 2011 and it was through cooking together that we were able to first communicate with each other through sign language. I always knew I had a great recipe when James would give me the sign for “more” after finishing a meal. Cooking not only helped me communicate with James, but it also allowed me to heal.
My skills in the kitchen improved with each passing month. Friends encouraged me to start selling my tasty treats at our local Farmer’s Market in Statesboro, Georgia. I pleasantly surprised when each time I went, I sold out within a few hours! I thought to myself, maybe I have something special here with the treats that I make. People were lined up each time I went. As my love for cooking grew, James was having more symptoms of Autism pop up with each passing month. My heart was breaking and I felt helpless at times, but I kept telling myself to go to the kitchen and keep cooking to get me through it. The one thing I always knew in my heart was that our kids loved their Mommy’s food and that brought me so much joy.
At the age of 3, James went into the Autism Program at Mattie Lively Elementary. He had amazing teachers working one on one with him and began to overcome some of his symptoms. James also received speech therapy from the Therapy Spot in Statesboro. Each month, I could see the impact the speech and occupational therapy was having on him. He began to pick up a few words at a time and making more eye contact. I treasured every little victory he had! I finally felt like, “there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.” I wrote every baby step down in a journal I keep. Some days I would look back at it and cry and some days I would see how far had come from my first journal entry. There were good days & bad.
I felt like I needed to find a way to help others that were going through the same thing, so I started a Community Support Group for Parents of Children with Special Needs that meets at 7pm the 1st Tuesday of each month in the Honey Bowen Building here in Statesboro. Through the group, I along with other parents have helped each other find resources and give support. My passion for cooking still carries over into the group that I love so much. Each month, I put together something special for us to eat at our meetings. I think food can bring people together and provide comfort. Food can be healing so many ways.
In May 2013, the Deen Family was having a book signing in Savannah, Georgia and I had to attend. I wanted to express to Paula in person how much she has helped and inspired me. I couldn’t just show up to a Paula Deen gathering without food, so I prepared a bag of my pecan pralines. I traveled to Savannah and waited in line with my bag. Imagine my excitement when she tried one of the pralines and told me that they were the best pralines she’d ever tasted. After listening to my story, Paula wanted to sell the pralines in her store and donate a portion of the sales to the Autism Foundation.
Our struggle with Autism has changed my life and opened my eyes to a large population of children with special needs who need our help. I am now not only James’ advocate, but I also strive to educate others about Autism. With Paula Deen’s help, I’ve been able to combine my passions for cooking and Autism advocacy. If you are in Savannah, Georgia, make sure to stop by the Paula Deen Retail Store and pick up a few pralines. A portion from each sale is donated to the Autism Foundation of Georgia. Enjoy a delicious treat for a really great cause!
If you would like to make a donation, mail checks to: Autism Foundation of Georgia, 1551 Shoup Court, Decatur, GA 30033
To find out more about the food that I love to cook and when I will be selling treats at the Statesboro Farmer’s Market, Like “From the Kitchen of Azure Rountree” on facebook.
Today, James is now mainstreamed into Kindergarten at Nevils Elementary School. He is growing, thriving and still continues to overcome his symptoms of Autism. Thanks to the Paula Deen Retail Store, $5,500 has been donated to the Autism Foundation of Georgia in honor of James.
THANKS to Paula Deen from Something Special Magazine.