Allie’s Allys Advocacy is close to Dr. Donna Marie Hunter’s heart—literally and figuratively. The San Bernadino County author, speaker, professional coach, and expert in women’s empowerment, launched the non-profit organization after moving through challenging experiences with her daughter, Alexandra.
“Alex is 30 now, and her autism diagnosis was late,” Hunter says of her daughter. “Thus, her interventions were either non-existent or very minimal. And that’s just because of my lack of ignorance on my part, but being an educator, and going into education after my daughter was diagnosed, then getting a doctorate in neurodiversity and early ed specialization, those became areas I championed—because of my daughter.”
The organization aims to educate, enlighten, and empower families, schools, businesses, and communities on children’s benefits of early and equitable access to care using the CDC’s “Learn the Signs Act Early” (LTSAE) program.
Hunter, who lives in San Bernardino County, is the author of the bestseller “Women Who Rise,” and the children’s book, “Allie’s Allys,” co-written with Jeremy Hunter and illustrated by Chloe Helms.
Hunter says the organization itself serves the entire Inland Empire. It hosts symposiums and workshops in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.
“We’re very present in Southern California, however, we go wherever the need is throughout the United States,” she shares. “We don’t limit ourselves. We were in Atlanta. We were in Texas. We’re making sure Black families have information.”
Between symposiums, events, and distributing general information about valuable resources families need for their children, Hunter commends the efforts of all involved.
“For instance, when we get folks to the Inland Regional Center and make sure they have a service coordinator, I have the tingling in my heart,” she says, “because, I, as a parent of a child who did not get early access to care, know what this means. It means we are changing our lives. For a child who is going to be different for the rest of their life, we need outcomes.
“My Alex did not receive early access to care, thus her autism, her intellectual disability, is severe,” she adds. “We’re championing the cause so that no other Black child will have to suffer because of a lack of information and access.”
Recently Ally’s Allies was a grantee of the Inland Empire Black Equity Fund through Inland Empire Community Foundation. The fund launched in 2020 to advance racial equity and support long-term investments in Black-led organizations in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Initially set to raise $5 million for Black-led organizations in the Inland Empire, it has, over the last three years, exceeded that reach, generating more than $6 million.
Hunter said the grant allowed Ally’s Allies to take a significant technological leap with its website enhancement, which became a vital link to assisting others.
“The website was somewhat antiquated and very confusing for folks that needed resources, especially families impacted by infection and developmental disabilities,” she says. “The refresh is more user-friendly now and we can get more information out to families regularly, especially information about valuable resources.”
She noted that in addition to the website overhaul, the organization was able to work with a talented graphic designer.
Looking ahead, Hunter says she would love for residents to understand that Ally’s Allies exists to educate people about the signs of intellectual disability and to support and help them learn how to advocate for their children.
“In particular, Black and brown children,” she adds because about 78 percent of them are less likely to be diagnosed as well as receive interventions early on. Early access to care is important. We want to make sure, as allies, we eliminate the disparity gap and make sure our Black and brown children have access not only to research-based intervention but also to support and advocacy in need of it. Not only in the community but also in the school district with their doctors.”
Learn more about Allie’s Allys at alliesallys.org.
This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise January 2024
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