You never know what the person next to you on the bus is thinking; what they’re experiencing in their daily lives; how they’re feeling. You don’t know, as you walk down a busy street, who works for a non-profit, who is a business mogul or who is struggling. You certainly might not expect that the pros installing your new garage doors are also responsible for an entire academy dedicated to individuals with nonverbal autism.
Enter Lynn Yeager, co-owner of the Precision Door Service franchises serving Atlanta and Savannah-Hilton Head.
At the same time that Yeager is running a successful business with her husband, Tim Yeager, she is also the director and founder of BridgeHaven Academy. BridgeHaven Academy is a not-for-profit private school for students with nonverbal autism, and the program at the school focuses on facilitated communication—or supported typing. Yeager’s own son, Jacob, found his voice through supported typing. And the Yeagers felt a strong urge to share this opportunity with others.
“For 11 years, we have traveled through this world of autism and tried every therapy we thought would work for our son,” Yeager says. “Many studies have suggested that 40 to 50 percent of children with autism are nonverbal and cannot use speech as a reliable form of communication. We had almost gotten to the point of accepting that statistic, and then a miracle happened. We tried a typing technique with Jacob and realized that not only would this be a viable method for him to communicate with us, but that he was intelligent, witty, charming and funny.”
Supported typing is a form of alternative expression for those with impaired verbal communication. A facilitator supports the individual as they use the method, without leading or moving them. Over time, many of these individuals are able to communicate through typing with less and less assistance.
“Overnight, everything we were doing with Jacob had to be changed to reflect our understanding of his intelligence,” Yeager says. “It became obvious that we were going to have to figure out what to do with his education in order to meet his thirst for knowledge and help him reach his potential. The easy way out would’ve been for me to hire a teacher and tag team at home, but that wouldn’t provide a circle of friends for him and a community of learners. And there were other kids out there that were craving the same opportunity that Jacob could’ve had at home.”
“So, I decided to open a school.”
Yeager went through all of the necessary guidelines and standards to get state funding so she could share this method with others and make it affordable for families. “I started with one student. And now, I have four full-time students, 10 part-time students, and we’re looking to branch out to reach out to about 20. Our academy has teamed up with some of the experts in this typing method and field, as well as other nonprofit organizations, to sponsor and host meaningful conferences to educate parents, caregivers, therapists and teachers to presume competence in all children with autism and to not let the diagnosis define the child.”
All of this while running two successful businesses with her husband.
In 2017, during BridgeHaven’s first year, Precision Door Service as a corporation chose the academy as the focus of their annual charity fundraiser. They called it “Bowling for BridgeHaven” and raised over $20,000 for the school. In past years, Precision Door Service has held fundraisers for the Wounded Warrior Project, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the American Cancer Association and more. They ask their franchisees to nominate charities for the fundraiser each year, and those causes tend to hit close to home for people within the company network. “It really makes it special and meaningful when we see it affecting one of our own,” says Suzanne Odisho, Marketing Manager of Precision Door Service.
We are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn not only about the Yeagers and BridgeHaven Academy, but also about Precision Door Service’s dedication to fundraising. Their commitment highlights the value of giving back and supporting the community, and they share that commitment with their more than 90 locations throughout the nation.