Parents in Toto offers families an oasis

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

When Mary Limbacher's son was diagnosed in fifth grade with Asperger's syndrome, a particular form of autism, she realized how important a support base would be in raising her child.

As her son was entering sixth grade in 2000, Limbacher began Cranberry CARES, a support group specifically designed for parents with children who have Asperger's syndrome.

Limbacher realized that she was not alone and made it her goal to help parents and individuals who deal with forms of autism in any way she could.

In the beginning of 2008, Limbacher opened the doors of her non-profit, Parents in Toto, located at 143 South Main Street in Zelienople, to help others.

By starting the organization, she also opened doors of opportunity for parents, diagnosed individuals, families and friends to socialize and learn in a comfortable space in order to provide an encouraging experience.

“I'm very focused on visits to the center being positive,” Limbacher said. “It's non-threatening, everyone is willing to share what has worked with their family.”

The name “in toto,” Latin for “in total” or “completely,” was chosen as a way to emphasize her understanding of success relying on much more than just one person.

The officially nonprofit company now serves to over 100 families that visit the center regularly, providing them with support and products related to autism spectrum disorders free of charge.

Participants and parents use the center as a way to find a support base after a hard day or meet new people who deal with similar struggles, Limbacher said. “It's very much like being part of a family.”

Bill Benzinger, a Renfrew resident and parent of a child diagnosed with autism, sees the center as a place for his son, Jacob, to grow and use the successes of others as inspiration.

“I really like Jacob being exposed to other people with his condition who are really reaching above and beyond what otherwise might not have been possible for them,” Benzinger said, listing examples of participants who hold steady jobs or attend college.

The organization also acts as a place for Benzinger to know that his son is not alone and that he, as a parent, has a support group that is there for him.

“It was just so neat to see a room full of Jacobs,” he said, remembering the first time they visited the center.

The success of Parents in Toto has given Limbacher a new goal: to start another center where aid is given to families and individuals who have all kinds of needs, not just those associated with autism.

Creating an environment that fosters the expansion of new ideas is the key to success and expansion for the organization,

“I don't think it necessarily takes more money, we just have to be more creative and be optimistic,” she said.

Matthew DeFusco is an intern with Trib Total Media.

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