When we put out a call for community hero nominations, we were soon inundated with suggestions. Just one name that stood out was that of Maria Box (soon to be Cook), the chairperson of Autism Support Crawley, which provides a life-line of support, help and advice for parents and carers of those on the autism spectrum.
Pound Hill resident Maria, whose six year old son Ryan has autism, now helps to support 450 local members – via two monthly meetings (many of which host leading autism speakers) and an active Facebook page. She is also a parent liaison for Autism Sussex, running coffee mornings and signposting parent/carers to services that they may not have heard about and is a parent governor at Manor Green School too.
“Four years ago our daughter was diagnosed with autism. Whilst it was expected, it still came with a broad range of emotions, worries and frustrations. I first met Maria, two years ago when a friend introduced us. I felt able to talk openly to Maria about anything and everything autism as I knew she would fully understand and offer good advice,” Autism Support Crawley member, Natalie King, tells us.
“I joined the group through social media and it has been an excellent source of help and advice along with a great bunch of people who are all in similar situations. Over time, I have got to know Maria. I have seen her laugh until she nearly cried and cry until I made her laugh. She is so passionate about what she does and the support she gives us all through the group and on a personal and social level is rarely found these days. I am lucky enough to call Maria a very dear friend. Without her and the support of Autism Support Crawley, every day would be that little bit harder.”
As well as offering hands-on support to so many, busy mum Maria, continuously campaigns to raise awareness for autism through writing articles for magazines – one of which even saw her working with a national supermarket:
“In one article Maria, explained about the difficulties that she encountered visiting Sainsbury’s and how difficult it was to try and get a six year old wriggling boy in to a trolley whilst onlookers sniggered,” Maria’s fiancée, Lee Cook explains. “Due to the article being available online, a marketing manager from Sainsbury’s managed to contact Maria to apologise and ask how they could improve her shopping experience with Ryan. Maria explained that the trollies are not practical for children with disabilities and suggested a front loading trolley with neck support and a five point harness. Within a few months, Sainsbury’s presented Maria with a prototype trolley and after a few modifications, it has now gone national with a trolley purposely built for children with disabilities in every store.
I am extremely proud of her and can’t wait to be her husband!”
Well done Maria! Further congratulations are also in-store for Maria, as she marries long-term partner Lee on Wednesday 29th July in a castle ceremony in Jersey! With organising group meetings, on-going campaigning, being a carer for both son Ryan and her mum, who suffers with mental illness, we’re not sure how she found the time to plan a wedding – we’re sure you’ll agree; Maria’s Community Hero title is well deserved!