The mother of three boys, two with special needs, Laura Calvert knew her family needed to be surrounded by others who would understand and not be so quick to judge. Her children needed an outlet which would build their self-esteem and confidence and make them more independent.
Her family includes husband Sean Calvert and sons: Trevor, age 24, who is an engineer; Aydin, 17, who has autism and Liam, 14, who has a dual diagnosis of autism and Down’s Syndrome, along with other medical issues.
In 2008, she started the social group “Peace for the Pieces,” and organized the first and second autism walk in Texarkana, in both Texas and Arkansas. She moved back to Pleasanton in 2009, starting her venture with the downtown Art on Main Co-Op Art Creations.
It was approximately a year ago when she started gathering a small group together, picking them up from school every other week to enjoy an activity or trip. She heard God’s calling, which kept telling her, “You’re doing this.”
However, Calvert believed she did not have the energy or the time. When she still felt God’s calling tugging at her, she gave in and began Peace for the Pieces in Atascosa County in October 2019. The group is designed for special needs teens and young adults. However, younger children are welcome if they are accompanied by a parent.
In less than six months, the group has already held four major events. There was a huge turnout at their Halloween event, followed by Turkey Bingo in November and their Christmas celebration, which featured a Whoville theme. Over 60 children and 30 families took part in the Christmas party, sponsored by the Pleasanton Lions Club. They sponsored use of the building and donations so that each child received an age-appropriate, wrapped gift.
“They were so elated and excited,” said Calvert.
In January, the children enjoyed a trip to Big Lou’s Pizza and then a park outing in San Antonio.
The group’s most recent get-together, a Tea Garden Party and Dance at Coughran Hall, brought out many in their Sunday Best and spring hats. The special occasion started off with attendees enjoying lemonade in tea cups, followed by a delicious brunch of sandwiches, chips and dips and desserts galore under the trees. Special needs children and their families visited, with mothers introducing their toddlers to others who offered encouragement. One such person was Alan Workman of Floresville, who has Asperger syndrome and serves as a mentor for the group.
Approximately 90 people attended the Tea Garden Party. The use of Coughran Hall was donated and parents prepared and brought the food.
Mother Vanessa Hernandez of Pleasanton said, “It is nice to have kids get together and meet new friends. The kids love it.”
Said Calvert, “The need is there for these families to come together. What it does for these kids is amazing. It gives them self-esteem and they can be themselves around these other kids. Nobody is going to judge them, or bully them.”
She shared success stories of members who have had so many doors open through Peace for the Pieces, such as two girls who rarely came out of their shells, only to travel crosscountry together. For those parents unsure about getting their children involved, Calvert asks them to take that initial
step and bring them to their monthly meetings and outings.
One upcoming activity is bowling in March, followed by a craft day at Art on Main. Madd Autism Walk & Run on April 18
On April 18, the entire community is invited to the free Madd Autism Walk and Run at the Pleasanton River Park. Get a team together and come dressed in your Madd Hatter and Wonderland theme. The Madd Run starts at 9 a.m. with the Team Walk starting at 11 a.m.
Business and individual sponsorships are available. Vendors are needed and spots are available for $25. Any individuals, community groups or businesses who wish to donate a silent auction item or be a part of the event are asked to please contact Laura Calvert at 830-570- 2782, Toni Miranda at 830- 570-2718 or Wendy Saunders at 210-385-6868. The event is being sponsored by the City of Pleasanton. Pleasanton students are already on board to assist, with the woodworking students cutting out puzzle pieces and the art students painting them. There will be T-shirts, hotdogs, etc. for sale to raise funds.
Plans are also in the works to wear yellow and blue in honor of Down Syndrome Day on March 21. Calvert would also like to have an Autism Proclamation in April and more support meetings for parents. The group will also help with the Sweet Memories Spring Dance on April 28 and 29 in Pleasanton. Summer plans include a trip to Son’s Island in New Braunfels, with Mr. Calvert barbecuing.
Calvert is especially grateful to the Woman’s Club of Pleasanton for their support. They told Calvert that the next time they need items from their Thrift Store, she could bring the children any day and they would not have to pay for anything.
Calvert has also been helped along the way by Toni Miranda and Wendy Saunders, who pour their hearts into this. The group finds different ways to raise funds to make their activities and trips possible. Ninety-five percent of the funds of some of the art gallery vendors, such as Calvert, goes to support Peace for the Pieces, so she invites folks to shop there. However, the women don’t ever want money to be a deterrent for a child not taking part in their activities, often covering their expenses.
“We are just blessed to be a part of this. Laura reached out to me just one day looking for something and all of a sudden…,” said Miranda. “It has been pretty much the three of us.”
Although, she was quick to add that they have such a great support system in the community.
Origin of the name
Before her middle son was diagnosed, Calvert knew something was wrong.
“I didn’t know what to do. So I got a notebook and wrote everything he ate that day and the times he would throw his tantrums. I started to watch, watch, watch every day,” said Calvert.
She noticed that at 6 p.m. he would have a meltdown. One day before 6, she pulled the blinds down in front of her huge, bay window. She was struck by how this did not cause a meltdown. It was only when the sun came down.
“It’s little things like that. It could be lights that sometimes bother them. It could be a smell. Anything can set them off.”
Both her sons were diagnosed around the same time. At night when she had those good days and she started closing the blinds, she said, “Thank you, Jesus, for the peace!”
Calvert explained, “Pieces are like the puzzle pieces, because it’s kind of a puzzle. They didn’t know what brought it on. Every single one of those kids is different.”
She discussed how the numbers of those with autism has grown so much, even since 2008.
“God put it in my heart to do this group, Peace for the Pieces, and that’s what I did.”
She is also thankful to God that she is Liam’s and Aydin’s mom, as being a special needs mother requires patience and a unique type of understanding.
It broke her heart to see how her eldest son had all the parties, football games and friends over, while her son Aydin was never invited to others’ homes.
Her son Liam has had many health issues, even since birth. He was born without an esophagus. Calvert researched doctors and Liam was the first in Little Rock to have a special surgery, in which an esophagus was created, kind of like a bypass. He recently had a biopsy for leukemia, which came out negative. Calvert said she draws much of her strength from her motherin law, as two of her husband’s siblings have Cystic Fibrosis.
She reminds everyone that the potential in special needs children is always there. Also, just because someone does not talk, does not mean they do not hear you. She discussed a national news story in which an autistic child once thought to be non-verbal began talking after wearing an Iron Man mask.
“There is hope. I think there is something that unlocks it for everybody. I haven’t given up hope with Liam.”
Leading Peace for the Pieces brings tremendous joy to the women.
“The smiles on those kids’ faces is like a million dollars,” said Calvert.
She sent photos of a child in the group smiling at one of the events to his mother. The mother thanked Calvert, as her son usually dislikes photos.
“He is grinning from ear to ear and she was in tears.”
Miranda said, “They are part of this community. They’re not invisible.”
Through a support system, it flourishes like a plant, she added.
Calvert followed, “I think they get so comfortable in this group they think, ‘I can conquer this. I’ve got this.’”