Jen Pyne Named 2019 Roman Award Winner

Jen Pyne is not just a service provider to the people with autism whom she supports. She is a true friend and a member of their family.

“She has helped me to create a life on my own terms that I am proud of,” said Jade McWilliams, one of her clients. “I have a very happy, very autistic life that I love.”

Jen and Davis at Biltmore

Debra Walker, mother of another of Jen’s clients, said, “She has been with us for over seven years through moves, illnesses, traumas and fun times. Jen is a member of the five-person board we put in place for Davis when we are gone. We know she will do what is right for him.”

Because of Jen’s outstanding commitment to individuals with autism and their families, Debra and Jade nominated her for the 2019 John and Claudia Roman Direct Service Award. Jen, who works in the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Asheville region, was named the winner on Sept. 4.

Jen’s great respect for individuals with autism is evident in the fact that she spends time with them outside of work, Debra said.

“My work and friendships with people on the spectrum have brought so much more joy and love into my life than I would have ever imagined!” Jen said. They enjoy going to movies, concerts, baseball games, and just hanging out at the park or beach.

Jen has a background in elementary and special education and was inspired to work in the field of autism by her twin brother. “He loved the people he served, and they loved him,” she said. “He helped people make breakthroughs.”

Jen has worked with Davis for about seven years and with Jade for more than four. She met Jade at an autism conference that she attended with Davis. Jade was a speaker and used their really cool comics and illustrations for their presentation. “I loved Jade’s creative way of expressing themselves,” Jen said.

Eventually, Jade and Jen agreed that they would love to work together. “We are such a good match for each other,” Jen said. “We are both creative, artistic, playful, fun, goofy and silly. Jade appreciates me just the way I am, and I appreciate them right back! We make each other laugh and make the everyday responsibilities of life fun.”

Jade agreed, saying “I love getting excited about things and she does too! It’s a joy and a pleasure to be around.”

When they met, Jade had not lived on their own before and didn’t have the confidence to believe that was possible, Jen said. Now they do! “Jen’s help has affected me in a million ways both small and big,” Jade said. “It’s allowed me to live on my own, be an advocate for our community, to eat healthy – there is nothing that we can’t undertake or make better together.”

Recently, Jade went through an illness and surgeries. “I never felt scared or alone despite the fact that I don’t have family. I felt secure in my recovery knowing that Jen was there.”

For her part, Jen says she has gained much from having people with autism in her life. “I love what they have to teach me. I love the unique perspective they bring to the relationship. I love how unapologetically authentic and real they are. I love learning to see the world in new and different ways through their eyes.”

She hopes everyone can experience this joy. “Davis and I are around the same age and share a lot of the same interests. I would totally hang out with him even if I had not met him through my work. But how would I have gotten to know him if not through my work?

“This is something that I ponder. People on the spectrum and people with diverse abilities have so much to offer. They make life more colorful and exciting. They have gifts to offer that we are missing out on. I really feel that we are missing out by not having regular opportunities to get to know them and form friendships with them outside of the field of autism. So I am passionate about finding ways to connect diverse people and facilitate more friendships for and with people both on and off the spectrum!”

The John and Claudia Roman Direct Service Award, a cash award of $1,000, was endowed by Lori and Gregg Ireland to honor Christine Roman, the direct support professional who worked with their son, Vinnie. It was named for her parents, John and Claudia Roman. The Autism Society of North Carolina has bestowed the award for 12 years as part of its annual celebration of direct support professionals.

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