Photo: Matthew Hoyda (right) poses with his younger sister Julia. Matthew was featured on the July page of Celebrate Difference 2012 Calendar.
Photo by John DiDonna
by Keith Beebe
SUGAR GROVE—Sugar Grove resident Cathy Hoyda first learned about the not-for-profit group Celebrate Differences through other families she knew who had children with special needs.
Just a few years later, her son Matthew is pictured in the July section of Celebrate Differences’ 2012 calendar.
Matthew, 18, has autism and hypothalamic hamartoma. Cathy learned that the Celebrate Differences organization wanted volunteers to come up and pose as models for the calendar, and thought it would be a great way to help educate the community about the special needs population.
According to Celebrate Differences’ website (celebratedifferences.org), the organization, located in Oswego, Ill., is committed to supporting individuals with disabilities in reaching their fullest potential by providing positive resources and information to families, communities and health care providers while promoting a competent level of awareness and understanding.
“Celebrate Differences wants to raise awareness about these kids with special needs, but the organization is also going to turn around and help educate these families (with special-needs children), and also help with the kids’ education and help guide them through the school system and outside of school, as well,” Cathy said. “We, as families of kids with special needs, are so swamped just dealing with the child. The information is out there about everything else you need to do for your child. It’s overwhelming. So this kind of organization will help push the information out there, teach parents to help their child and teach society that these people are out there, and we could use the help and awareness.”
According to Cathy, Matthew’s behavior was good enough this year, so the Hoyda family decided to try and get him in the Celebrate Differences calendar. Cathy said her son is essentially nonverbal, but has always enjoyed looking at pictures of himself. He cooperated throughout the entire picture-taking process for the calendar.
“The pictures turned out really well, and he had a lot of fun doing it. Any kind of learning we can give him is beneficial,” Cathy said. “My son usually fake smiles, and the photographer actually caught one of his natural ones, which is just a beautiful smile.”
One of Matthew’s biggest supporters is his 15-year-old sister Julia, who contributed a short story about Matthew that will be included on his page of the calendar. Cathy said Julia loves to talk about Matthew and help him.
Julia also took pictures with Matthew for the calendar—two of which were used.
“We went to a small park by the river and got to stand in and by the river for our pictures. Along with the pictures is a short story I wrote about my brother. From those who have already read it, I have been told that it brought tears to their eyes,” Julia said. “I hope that whoever gets one of these calendars and sees the pictures and stories of these developmentally disabled children, will feel the same way. This calendar lets those who don’t know these kids be inspired by them and the people whose lives they have changed.”
Cathy said a big reason why she wants to educate the community about special-needs children is because she believes Illinois is awful at reaching out and helping children with developmental disabilities. Cathy is also trying to do legislative work.
“Politicians always target cutting the funds of all the services for the vulnerable, and it’s like tough luck—you’re out. Instead of cutting where it makes sense to cut, they’d rather cut the vulnerable population.”