Miranda Georgetown-Riley is the founder of the Magnolia Rose Foundation which seeks to normalize autism in children by hosting events for neurotypical and neurodivergent children. The journey to get where she and her daughter Magnolia are today starts with playdates and a mother’s intuition.
Georgetown-Riley and her best friend Kacee made a pact that their daughters would also be best friends, and to do so, they needed to have frequent playdates. As these playdates went on, Georgetown-Riley began to notice that, by 18 months old, Magnolia wasn’t meeting the same milestones as Kacee’s daughter, Esther, or engaging with others quite like Magnolia’s cousin was. She suspected that Magnolia was autistic, and after eight months of attempting to get evaluated, she was diagnosed with level one autism, formerly known as “high-functioning autism.”
“I cried for a week straight,” recalls Georgetown-Riley. “I always tell parents that was my moment of grief because you have expectations for your children and their future. As a mother, you have all of these ideas of what your baby’s future will look like and their aspirations, and then when you learn more about what your child’s exceptionality is, that changes.”
However, once her tears dried, grief turned to determination, and she knew she had to do something to carve a brighter future for Magnolia. At the time, resources for children with autism were sparse in Baton Rouge, so figuring out how to let her child live a normal life was up to her. To do so, she hosted the first-ever Rose Run for Autism Acceptance, which brought the community together and sparked the creation of the Magnolia Rose Foundation. The run was an opportunity for Magnolia’s mother to dip into the local autism community, find support, and make sure her daughter would find love and acceptance.
Now, the foundation has become a budding resource for families of children with exceptionalities. Annual playdates are scheduled at a variety of venues, and events are hosted to give children plenty of chances to interact with children both neurotypical and neurodivergent.
Their most recent event, the second annual Rose Run, was a color run that hosted several local vendors who provided information and support to curious families. The color run itself felt like a shot in the dark for Georgetown-Riley, as she was worried about sensory issues hindering a child’s enjoyment, but this fear was unfounded. She and other participants were pleasantly surprised by how excited and open the children were to the noise, the vibrant powdery colors in the air and on themselves, and the energy of the event. She hopes that next year’s run will be just as lively and maybe even bigger.
As for the foundation’s future, Georgetown-Riley has plenty of exciting things in the works. On October 21 at the Baker Municipal Center, she plans to host the second annual Magnolia Masquerade Ball. This ball will be a black-tie event and a sneaker ball with formal gowns, tuxedos, and suits.
Through a partnership with the City of Baker, she became the Autism Ambassador for the city of Baker, allowing her to start new and exciting projects like a horticultural therapy park. The park would include a therapy garden for autistic children, neurodivergent children, or any child with an exceptionality or disability. The community garden will include flowers and vegetables, interactive play items, and more.
Her ultimate goal for the foundation is to start a school for children with autism where they can learn at their own pace, socialize, and play together. As Magnolia grew up with her best friend Esther by her side, their interactions further solidified that neurotypical children like Esther can get along seamlessly with neurodivergent children like Magnolia. Georgetown-Riley has personally seen Esther learn and gauge how Magnolia, who is nonverbal, is feeling and when she needs help through her gestures, stims, and reactions. Their sweet friendship has helped Magnolia’s mother feel confident that her daughter will always have someone to love and support her through Esther’s willingness to engage, love, and learn despite the children’s differences.
For those wanting to get involved, the Magnolia Rose Foundation is always looking for volunteers for playdates and events. They will also be hiring an intern to help plan events and manage the foundation as well. To sign up for playdates, get updates, and more, check out the foundation’s Instagram page and Facebook page at facebook.com/themagnoliarosefoundation.