RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – We met Elizabeth Morales in the parking lot at a local strip mall. She shared pictures of her son Matthew who was diagnosed with autism as a toddler.
"I knew when he was about 2 and a half, he didn't talk very much," Elizabeth said. "It affects his social skills, speech, and behavior."
Matthew grew up going to Special Education classes in public schools.
"It's been very rough because they do have aggressive behavior and it's cut down to like 85% better," she said.
Elizabeth credits Camp Baker, a peaceful, wooded 22 acre Chesterfield retreat run by Greater Richmond ARC.
"They have more patience," Elizabeth said. "He just loves everybody in there. He's much more verbal. He's much happier. He's growing up and he's much more outgoing."
Matthew's 21 now and spends five days a week at Camp Baker, attends summer camp here and monthly weekend respite a vacation from mom.
"They don't just take care of him, they take care of me. When I need them they're there, they just need the recognition," said Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Morales: "This is a way to say thank you to them, to give them whatever they need for the shortage."
Sabrina Squire: "Absolutely. So here's $100, $200, $300 for Camp Baker."
Elizabeth Morales: "Thank you so much. They are going to be shocked."
We follow Elizabeth and her husband to the Beach Road campsite. No sooner than we arrive, Elizabeth sees Camp Director Shirley O'Brien.
Shirley O'Brien: "How can I help you?"
Elizabeth Morales: "I nominated you for Act of Kindness for what you do for my son Matthew."
Shirley O'Brien: "You deserve it. You're an incredible woman, incredible mother."
Elizabeth Morales: "Thank you. I want to give you $300."
Shirley O'Brien: "For Camp Baker?"
Elizabeth Morales: "Yes."
Shirley O'Brien: "Why thank you."
Elizabeth Morales: "$100, $200, $300."
Shirley O'Brien: "Thank you. I can use this for…"
Elizabeth Morales: "Whatever you need."
Shirley O'Brien: "Thank you! You've caught me off guard."
Elizabeth Morales: "Do you know hard it was to keep this a secret?"
Camp Baker's secret say O'Brien is a caring staff, a well of volunteers like these William and Mary college students working spring break, and an array of activities for more than 600 differently-abled campers.
"We provide swimming, and horseback riding, canoeing, sport and games and provide a very safe and opportune recreational program, just have great fun," said Shirley.
Asst. Director Gwen Hicks calls it fun with a purpose, basic life skills and community involvement.
"We do Meals on Wheels and also we do Adopt a Highway; our individuals who receive services from us, it is an opportunity for them to give back," Gwen said.
They're paying it forward too, while making the most of every day.
If there's an organization or individual you know deserves an Act of Kindness, e-mail me. It can't be a relative. Send your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.