KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Tanya Henry always has her son Michael by her side. The 25-year-old suffers from a rare disorder called Cornelia De Lange Syndrome. Her desire to help him get out and make friends has blossomed into a bigger effort to help other parents in her shoes.
"Young adults with disabilities don't have that chance to go online and say 'hey I want to go here on Friday, here on Tuesday'. They don't have that outside of school," Henry told FOX 17. "That's what we thought, let's give them something that they can be consistent, have consistently."
Henry launched a non-profit, Lonia's World Center, aimed at creating social events for young adults with special needs.
"Let's just start throwing parties because he needs a social life, and that's what really made me do it, is to give [Michael] a social life," she explained. "All our events are free, and we just want to continue to do those for our young adults so they can love meeting more young adults like them, and meeting more people that want to help them."
Henry said the first event was a "Pajama Jam" in 2018. Other events include a BBQ Bash and Masquerade Ball. This month, the group held a Movies in The Park event, featuring "The Wizard of Oz".
Participation continues to grow at the events, which are typically held quarterly, with around 100-150 regular attendees.
This Fall, Henry will be expanding her efforts with a job and life skills training program, thanks to a partnership with Keystone Community Church in Ada.
"It will allow the young adults to get out of the house, learn a trade, because we'll be teaching them culinary, hospitality," she explained. "Our program will give them a five year manager certification."
With Michael right by her side, Henry is happy to bring smiles to other families in her situation.
"I think it's a good thing to feel that I am helping, when I watch the young adults jump around and play," Henry said. "Watching that is my satisfaction, that's all I need every time."
As the FOX 17 and Lake Michigan Credit Union Pay it Forward Person of the Month, Henry is receiving a $300 prize.