Episode 4: Cathy Gott, Danny’s Farm

Before Autism Awareness Month comes to a close I wanted to make sure that we are highlighting incedible work that so many are doing for Autism. I’m so excited to share today’s conversation with you. I’ve known and admired Cathy Gott for a very long time. We both raised our sons in the same small town outside of LA. A small city where everyone knows everyone and supports one another. Cathy has always been a bright light, someone with amazing energy, and a person who makes things happen. She and her husband, (legendary baseball pitcher) Jim Gott have two sons, Danny and Nick. When Danny was diagnosed with autism Cathy and Jim went to work.

Cathy is the co-founder of Education Spectrum, a social skills, and community integration program that supports children and their families with developmental needs. Cathy didn’t stop with Education Spectrum, she kept going to found Danny’s Farm an amazing nonprofit that is so much more than a petting farm. It is a place for the community to come together while employing adults with developmental differences.

Join us today to learn about Cathy’s journey, the challenges she faced as the mother of a child with autism, her journey of service, and to learn about the incredible work she is doing today for adults with developmental needs. She is a true inspiration!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Danny’s Farm does?

Cathy Gott: Danny’s Farm is a labor of love, no doubt about that. It is a petting farm, that employs adults with developmental differences. We provide a lot of volunteer opportunities and vocational training. In addition, we go out into some of the most underserved communities and special needs communities in Los Angeles, either through our mobile petting farm and visit groups of kids who sometimes never even seen a farm animal.

I mean, it’s remarkable and is a really interactive, lovely experience. Then we also have hours at the farm where we host field trips and tours and individual visits depending on the needs of the individual. So it’s an inclusive nurturing loving place. We share the property with another organization called Special Spirit which provides therapeutic horseback riding. So, it’s hard to separate because you know, you can’t pass up a pig pen when you’re going over to ride your horse or a sheep or a goat or a bunny or you know, it’s just really fun. So we share a lot of that.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Danny’s Farm?

Cathy Gott: Well, when Danny was little as with many people with autism, there’s a number of sensory issues and in particular, sound sensitivity. And lots of different ways to take in the environment tactfully from touch to you know, just how we move in our body and space. He had a lot of difficulties navigating things like amusement parks or baseball games or things that a family would typically enjoy. It would be very overwhelming for Danny.

One of the few places that he loved to go, were petting farms, wherever we were because they’re quiet and they’re peaceful.  He got a lot of tactile input by petting and holding and squeezing and hugging and loving all those animals. Danny has always had a tremendous affinity for animals. So that’s the background story.

Then somewhere in the early to maybe 2010, something like that Danny was a teenager. I was attending a conference at this taskforce Blue Ribbon Commission for autism in California. I learned about some grants that were available to fund micro-enterprises or small businesses. That’s when the light bulb went off, you know because a lot of parents as their kids are about to exit high school or thinking what’s next? What is my child going to do and have meaningful employment in life? And it just all clicked together. That’s what we decided to do and it truly is Danny’s Farm. He has a lot of pride and works very hard. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Cathy Gott:  We had some location issues but you know, they all turned out great in the end.  The first location we opened was an Altadena at a beautiful little horse stable. We used a lot of the grant money to build a barn that served a number of wonderful things.

What happened is we were a victim of our own success because once the word got out about Danny’s Farm we were very busy, very fast serving kids in and around Los Angeles County. And this poor little neighbor. Bus after bus come in and out and the neighbors were not happy. So we politely had to close our doors there and that was devastating.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Cathy Gott: I have learned so many lessons. I think the one that comes to mind is the saying, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” I used to be such a planner. I had planned where Danny would live and work and I learned to let it go. We adapt to do the best with what we have. We learn to manage our expectations and disappointments. Being able to pivot is extremely humbling.

I feel closest to God now when I just listen. It is such a privilege to simply listen.



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Episode 66: You, Me and Neurodiversity

The power of inspiration and motivation can come at any age and anytime in life. Today’s guest is an old soul doing remarkable work for the Autism community. Inspired by her younger brother, Alyssa Lego set out at age 14 to help him by creating lesson plans. Before long that work turned into creating her first nonprofit.

Today, Alyssa is joining us to share about her latest work with Autism and her new project called You, Me, Neurodiverstiy. Join us as Alyssa shares her inspiring journey from big sister, college student and nonprofit founder.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what You, Me, NeuroDiversity does?

Alyssa Lego: Our mission is to embrace neurodiversity and autism acceptance in ways that really haven’t been done before. I am such a firm believer that education creates change. And I’m such a firm believer in the fact that that starts with our youngest generations. 

So when I was 14, I actually started a lesson plan program with a fourth grade teacher of mine, it was called Friends Who are Different and it was in all the school districts in my area. And it was all about autism acceptance and inclusion. But a lot of things have changed since then. You, Me Neurodiversity has really brought me back to creating content, visiting classrooms. And again, starting with that sentiment of motivating our younger generations to accept autism, embrace neurodiversity, and really become catalysts of change. So the human neurodiversity movement donates 100% of our proceeds to autism focus charities, with each book purchase, each purchase that somebody makes is making a difference. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Your Organization?

Alyssa Lego: This really all began from my relationship with my younger brother.  I learned pretty early on that the world just was not designed for autistic people. We have a long ways to go in terms of true autism acceptance, rather than just awareness. And there were so many moments that just broke my heart as a young girl. I remember instances of sheer bullying because my brother couldn’t communicate. He communicated in a different way just because his brain was wired a certain way. He was discriminated against in school and in the community.

As that older sister, I wanted to do whatever I could to make the world a better place for my brother and people that were experiencing the world in a similar way to my brother. And for me, I love to write and I love to speak. So that’s how the lesson plan program started all those years ago.

Charity Matters: what or who influenced you to start giving back at such an early age?

Alyssa Lego: I was raised in a home that really embraced volunteerism and giving back to your community. My earliest introduction to volunteerism was with the Special Olympics.  I volunteered as an ambassador with the Special Olympics from I think the time I was nine years old  until I was maybe about 14. So I would fundraise for the organization and I got the chance to attend events. 

The Special Olympics was the first time where I actually delivered a motivational speech. I was 12, at one of the Special Olympics events, and I remember just thinking to myself, this is a space where I can use that force for good.  I believe that is really where it all started. I remember I hosted, with a lot of help from my parents, an ice cream social to benefit the Special Olympics when I was in the fifth grade. Everybody came out my whole school came out all my teachers.  But I think even at that young age, I realized wow, I am part of something so much bigger than myself. Then as I got older, I started to realize that I really want to see what these proceeds and what these funds are doing. That’s what led me to create things like You, Me and Neurodiversity. I could really see where that money was going, and feel that impact and continue making those connections firsthand.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alyssa Lego: I think I’ve really seen ageism in action a lot. Being 14, my mom was in the back because I was a minor, pitching to the Board of Education for why they should put my lesson plan in schools at that young age. So I really, I have seen a lot of ageism, and people just just not understanding that young people can be the change. Young people can start great things and be a part of great things. And unfortunately, I think that’s something that deters a lot of young people away from volunteerism or starting their own organization. They think that’s for people who already have established careers or who already have X amount of years doing certain things.

I think another challenge that I still face day to day is just time management. Being a full-time college student, the creator of You, Me, Neurodiversity,  being involved in school,  reserving time for family and friends and of course taking care of myself it’s definitely not easy.  By being disciplined with myself, and taking care of myself allows me to kind of fill all of those buckets.  I’ve really learned the importance of teamwork and communication. Time management is a skill that I’m continuing to develop as I get older. It’s just been such an incredible journey and I’m so grateful for all of the people that have really helped me get to this point and inspire me to continue on.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Alyssa Lego: My brother, it just goes back to the initial inspiration.  I actually just became one of my brother’s legal guardians because he just turned 18 years old. That is one thing that certainly keeps me up at night but also continues to inspire and motivate me.  Just the prospect and the idea of my brother, being able to live a thriving, a fulfilling life in a community that supports him is what inspires me. This is what motivates me to write that social media post when I don’t really feel like doing it, or change the dimensions of the book for the 7,000,000th time.

I think that’s the most magical thing about founders and about the nonprofit space because everybody has that story. Everybody has that. It’s almost like a duality between the vision, and what makes you tick. Seeing the present, seeing the past, but then knowing what the future can be and knowing that you’re a part of that. Knowing that you’re writing that story,  in my case, literally writing that story is just incredibly inspiring. And then of course, knowing that I don’t walk alone is another thing that really inspires me as well.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Alyssa Lego: I would love to turn You Me Neurodiversity into a household  name for reading about autism acceptance. I really would love to continue developing our interactive activity books and  just taking all of these great experiences that kids have in the classroom and making them inclusive.  I really do believe that we could do that with our books and programs. And I’m hoping to partner with more schools, speak with the children and really have them understand what it means to be an ambassador of acceptance. Then one day pass the torch on in the hopes of creating a more inclusive world.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Alyssa Lego: I think listening as much as you speak is one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned.  I think I’ve really learned the great power of teamwork and of listening as a tool for leadership.  It’s really not about having the loudest voice in the room, but making sure that everybody else in the room feels like they have a stake in the conversation and feels like they’re being heard.

 I think another great lesson that I’ve learned is listening to the communities that you serve. I am  big on self advocacy, and amplifying autistic voices. It’s in itself, it’s such a powerful tool. That is one piece of advice that I would give to any founder. Really listen to the communities you serve to understand those nuances. Because if you’re in a space where you can really affect change, you want to make sure you’re going you’re using your passion for a purpose. One of the most important things that really guides everything I do is listening to the communities that I’m serving.




Copyright © 2023 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Easter Seals

Easter Seals

When we think of large companies or organizations its easy to forget that they didn’t all begin that way. We see only what is before us and not where the organization came from. Almost always, the beginnings are humble and behind every great organization is a person with passion and a story. Easter Seals, one of our countries oldest non-profits, is no different.

It all began in 1907, when Edgar Allen lost his son in a streetcar accident. There was not proper medical care in their town and as a result Edgar’s son did not survive. Edgar, a Ohio businessman, sold his business to begin a fund-raising to build a hospital in his town of Elyria, Ohio. Once the hospital was built he learned that children with disabilities were  hidden from public view. In 1919, determined to help these children, Edgar Allen founded the National Society for Crippled Children, the first organization of its kind.

By 1934, the organization launched its first Easter “seals” campaign to raise money for its services. Donors showed their support by placing seals on their envelopes and letters. A Cleveland cartoonist designed the first seal  based on the concept of simplicity, believing that those served by the charity wanted “simply for the right to live a normal life.” The lily became Easter Seals’ logo in 1952 for its symbolism with resurrection and new life and has appeared on their seal ever since.

The Easter Seals campaign was so successful that by 1967 the organization changed its name to Easter Seals.

Today, what began as fundraising campaign for a hospital, has grown into an organization in more than 550 U.S. cities with over 23,000 employees and thousands of volunteers. The Easter Seals organization continues its mission in helping individuals with disabilities and their families, live better lives. They offer help, hope and answers to more than a million children and adults living with autism each year.

From humble beginnings to a lasting legacy of compassion.

Charity Matters.


Copyright © 2014 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

A trash truck, a boy and a moment

Photo via Robin Newberger
Photo via Robin Newberger

One of the first words my oldest son said was, “Twas Twuck.” Every Wednesday we would sit by our big upstairs window and wait for the beloved trash man. He would waive, smile, honk and make our day. This morning I went looking for something to share with you about Autism and the story I came across simply made my day.

What has made this story so impactful, really had nothing to do with autism but rather with a beautiful act of kindness.  Manuel Sanchez, the trash man, gave Daniel the toy garbage truck that he purchased with his own money and had no idea that Daniel had autism. He just knew that Daniel was always waiting for him each week.

In a recent interview Manual said, “That little boy is so special, and he will steal anybody’s heart as soon as you see him,” Manuel told his employer. “I didn’t know what he has but there’s something very special about him.”

Obviously, there is something very special about Manual Sanchez too. His kindness has gone viral and he has inadvertently become the messenger of Autism awareness month by showing the world that the more you give the more you get.

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2014 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.


Danny’s Farm

As April’s Autism month comes to an end, I thought I would share the remarkable story of our friends, the Gott family. Jim and Cathy Gott’s son, Danny, was diagnosed with autism as young child. The Gotts lived the battle of therapies, the challenges of adolescence and then the reality of what happens to their son as an adult? What happens to adults with autism?

The Gott’s faith, love and tenacity knows no bounds and they were determined to create a place that not only helped their son live a fulfilling life as an adult with autism but helped others as well. That very special place is Danny’s Farm.


Danny’s Farm’s is much more than a petting zoo. It is a place that brings joy and purpose to adults with autism as well as to young children. As Cathy said, “My hope as a parent is to inspire others to harness their children’s passion.” Danny’s passion was animals and when Danny was 15 they began planning a legacy for him and other adults with autism.

The mission is to provide meaningful employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities and to serve children, ages 5-17 years old, by providing  experiences through the farm’s Specialty Autism Program.

Cathy said, ” Everybody needs a job and a purpose. I challenge the corporate community to open their hearts to hire just one person with a developmental disability. I think they would be surprised what value it can bring to an organization.”

Jim and Cathy’s mission began as a journey with their child but has grown into a beautiful place that brings joy to so many. Today they are employing adults with disabilities, taking their mobile petting farm on the road and empowering adults with disabilities with purpose and passion.

When I asked Cathy what inspired her, the response was,” The community that supports us and our employees, it’s just so beautiful to watch them do their job.” Its a complete circle of caring.

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2012 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Talk About Curing Autism

Every 20 seconds in the United States a child is diagnosed with Autism. A few of those children’s parents are my friends. Their journeys are truly unlike any other. Their commitment and dedication to their children is beyond inspirational.

So when I asked one of my girlfriends about where to start with Autism, she pointed me here to TACA Talking About Curing  Autism. What I found was this letter from the founder, Laura Ackerman. It was so much more than I can express so I am reposting it for you here:

In September 1999, the word “autism” rang through my ears like a cannon shot across the bow. My husband and I knew something was not going well with our son Jeff, but we would have never guessed it was autism.

Following that fateful visit with the neurologist, we visited many other professionals including medical doctors, speech pathologists, audiologists, and behaviorists. The list seemed endless. The common message we were given: Autism has no hope, no cure. In fact, the first three medical doctors recommended that my family find “institutional placement” for Jeff who was the ripe old age of 2½ years at the time.

Refusing to give up on our son, my husband and I spent hundreds of hours talking to any and all parents of a child diagnosed with autism, reading dozens of recommended books, watching countless hours of educational videos, and of course, surfing the internet constantly. We were determined that our beloved son would grow far beyond his label and that he would have a future that was wonderful and amazing despite his autism diagnosis. Early on, the most important step for us was to GET BUSY. It was up to us, HIS PARENTS, to make a difference for his future.

The early days of our son’s diagnosis were frustrating. Those countless hours spent researching, reading, talking – wasn’t there a better way? Wasn’t there SOMEONE who had already done the same research and search for answers before, who could have brought us up-to-speed much sooner for us to help our son faster?

Fast forward to November 2000, when our daughter Lauren (at the advanced age of 16) recommended that we start a parent support group. Both my husband and I felt we were not qualified but we definitely wanted the company of other families going through the same struggles for social gatherings and to share information, especially new research and treatments options as they became available. We also hoped to build a community where parents would be inspired by each other’s steadfast hopes for their children’s futures and who would be passionate about autism education for themselves and other similarly struggling families and raising awareness in the general public.

TACA began with a small handful of families in a living room in 2000. Today, we serve several thousand families around the United States. From a grassroots beginning in Southern California, TACA expanded nationwide and now operates Chapters in 18 states.

Where is my son Jeff now? He is 13 years old, attending school in a typical 7th grade placement with an aide. He talks, makes jokes, gives out hugs, socializes with typical friends, and is an active member of society with a bright future. That is a far cry from his early diagnosis and the initial prognosis for his future.

TACA’s goal is to provide education, support, and information to parents to help their children diagnosed with autism be the very best they can be, with the hope of recovery.

Today, there are many, many treatment options that help alleviate many of the symptoms suffered by our children diagnosed with autism. Let us share our collective, hard-won knowledge and experience with your family so your child’s treatment can begin right away. Ask about the autism journey because we are families with autism who have already “been there and done that” with many of our children. Some of us are still working hard everyday with our children for whom we never give up hope. We are Families with Autism Helping Families with Autism.

The autism journey is not an easy one. It’s a marathon, not a sprint; so take each minute, hour, or day, one at a time. It will be difficult, but it will also be incredibly rewarding, because it will change your life, your family’s life, and most importantly, the lives of your children with autism to all enjoy a brighter future.

I wish all families treating and caring for their children with autism the very best possible outcomes for their children as they continue forward on the autism journey.

God Bless,

Lisa Ackerman

Charity Matters.