"I'm going to lose my job."
“My kid is about to get kicked out of his after-school program. I am going to lose my job.” These two simple sentences motivated Erika Merriman and Kim Reinhardt, two special education teachers, to create the first afterschool program specifically for autistic kiddos in all of southeastern North Carolina.
The Pilot Program
During the summer of 2011, OASIS NC operated a pilot summer program out of Erika’s home. Despite the limited space, seven children were able to attend. Over the course of six weeks, they learned valuable social-communication skills, made friends, increased their communication, and were better prepared for school in the fall. A mother of one of the children in attendance reported that her son engaged in more frequent verbal interactions after he began attending OASIS NC’s summer camp. Many other parents commented about how much they learned just by viewing photos of the teaching strategies on Facebook!
After the pilot program had concluded, OASIS NC received its 501c3 status and organized a number of successful fundraisers for startup funds and autism awareness. Thanks to the support and generous donations from the community, including the Eshelman Foundation, OASIS NC was able to open in a new location on November 1st. The afterschool Social Learning Program was the first program at OASIS NC, but not long after, other needs became apparent. STEM Club and Summer Camp were officially added to the list of programs entering 2012.
The greatest goal in establishing OASIS NC was to create a safe environment full of acceptance and appreciation of individual differences. Sadly, families of the students attending the after-school program began communicating stories of bullying, exclusion, and low achievement in their current school placements. Observing children feeling unimportant, unworthy, rejected, misunderstood, and like they couldn't do anything right, was heartbreaking. So, in 2013, OASIS NC moved into a beautiful new space on Randall Parkway. The new building was more spacious and provided the opportunity to offer a private school program, Southeastern Autism Academy, in 2014. Since then, OASIS NC has expanded three more times and SEA Academy is now expecting to enroll 40 students in grades K-12 for next school year.
It has been a fun and exciting 10+ years and we cannot wait to see what the future brings!