WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield resident Tony Bianchino had planned to visit Orlando, Florida with his family. But after meeting pediatric therapist Megan Sheehy of the Mini Socialites Foundation based out of Warren, the family trip turned into a dream come true for Bianchino’s 16-year-old daughter, Kira, who falls on the autism spectrum.
“She helped Kira have the trip of a lifetime,” Bianchino said.
Sheehy and the Bianchinos met at a bowling social hosted by the Mini Socialites Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of children with special needs and their families by building networks of support and inclusion with collaborative partners, sponsors and community organizers.
“We are a full family organization — we don’t work with just the child, we work with the entire family,” said Sheehy, who established the foundation after noticing that some of her clients in her therapy programs were encountering problems with inclusion and socializing.
“As the children with special needs got older, they weren’t getting invited to play dates,” said Sheehy. “Not only were the children being isolated, so were the families.”
While at the bowling social, event-goers were talking about a separate trip planned for another family when Tony’s wife, Melissa, casually asked if it was possible to make Kira’s dream come true with a trip to Disney World.
“I was just finishing up a trip to NASCAR for a family and I told them, ‘Give me a few days’ and I think they thought I was joking,” said Sheehy. “We were able to provide them with 14 days worth of Disney experiences and we paired them with a Disney specialist who paired the itinerary in nine days, which typically takes about six to nine months.”
Tony Bianchino said that the magic didn’t stop there. After a small issue with the itinerary and scheduling, the Bianchinos were left feeling like they weren’t able to maximize their time while at the park. Deborah Hart, director/executive of guest services and experience noticed the Bianchinos and their frustration.
“They overheard our conversation and they wanted to make it magical,” said Bianchino.
According to Bianchino, within a matter of minutes Hart was able to take their family experience to a new level, including providing a pass to Belle’s Castle and Cinderella’s Castle along with a "Genie Pass." But what really made it magical was when they invited Kira and her 13-year-old brother, Cale, to be chefs for a day at Disney’s Main Street Bakery.
“Kira has wanted to be a baker at Disney and a greeter at Disney — she made it happen in minutes,” said Bianchino. “I will never forget the feeling. It is going to be vivid.”
When word of Kira’s experience and love of baking reached Westfield, Bianchino said he was once again shocked by people’s kindness. Outta Hand Pizza co-owner Burim Regjaj invited the family to bake their own pizzas at the Westfield restaurant. Regjaj, who said his own family has been affected by autism, said he wanted to carve out time for the family to have a little fun.
“It was a really nice outpouring of generosity of people,” said Bianchino.
If you are interested in learning more about the Mini Socialites Foundation, visit their website at MiniSocialites.net or send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.