Alumna strengthens ties to KU, helps children in Peru
Photo courtesy Judith LeBlanc
Alumna Liliana Mayo, g'86, PhD'96, was featured in November
in the New York Times' annual "Giving" section.
In 1979, Mayo established a school in her native Peru to help
children with autism. To strengthen her program, she later
came to KU, where she trained at the Schiefelbusch Institute
for Life Span Studies. She continues to work with her KU colleagues,
including Judith LeBlanc, professor emerita in human development
and family life. The following story is reprinted with permission,
and will be available from December 11, 2002 through January
Chancellor Hemenway with children last
summer at the Anne Sullivan Center in Lima, Peru. Photo
courtesy University Relations
The New York Times
November 18, 2002, Monday, Late Edition - Final
Her Long-Distance Connections Came Through
By JOHN O'NEIL
CALL it a philanthropic version of "Six Degrees of Separation."
How else to explain the link between Vincent and Mary Spader's
farm nine miles west of Oldham, S.D., population 206, and
the center for children with autism that Dr. Liliana Mayo
Ortega started in her parents' garage in Lima, Peru?
Some charitable efforts are planned on a grand scale. Others
just happen, one person at a time. Such is the case with Dr.
Mayo's program, the Centro de Anne Sullivan del Peru.
Autism derails the development of skills during early childhood,
including those on which language and social interaction are
built. Compared with hunger, H.I.V. or malaria, the disorder
does not loom large among the burdens facing the world's poor
children. But for the families of children with the disorder,
it is not a small matter.
Treatments exist for autism, but the cost of the intense,
specialized teaching that is involved can make it difficult
for even parents in the United States to obtain, let alone
in a third-world country.
All indications are that the autism caseload is soaring in
poor and rich countries alike, said Robert L. Beck, the executive
director of the Autism Society of America.
Mr. Beck said he was not aware of any organized efforts to
provide support for autism services overseas. "All of
the autism organizations here are really scrambling because
they're caught up in this explosion," he said.
Dr. Mayo's work began when, during her internship as a psychology
student, she was transferred from a hospital to a special
education school -- "as a punishment for asking too many
questions," she said. There she met Patty, an autistic
girl. "When I tried to teach her I realized that she
learned fast," Dr. Mayo said. A priest then took her
to see other autistic children, and what she still remembers
as "just horrible things -- kids in cages, kids tied
Two years later, in 1979, she opened the school, named after
Helen Keller's teacher, in her parents' home. In 1984, with
about 50 children enrolled, Dr. Mayo's parents sold a house
they owned "so I could go the United States and see if
we were doing a good job or not," she recalled. Dr. Mayo
applied to the University of Kansas in Lawrence because she
had been impressed with the writings of a psychologist there,
Dr. Judith LeBlanc.
Once in the United States, Dr. Mayo said, she asked every
autism specialist she met to visit her school and help train
her staff. "The only teacher who accepted the challenge
was Dr. LeBlanc," she said.
Dr. LeBlanc describes her first visit to the center as a
bit of a lark. "I agreed because I was footloose and
fancy free," she remembered. She was also in the area,
Venezuela, and Dr. Mayo persuaded an airline to give her a
Her reaction, Dr. LeBlanc said, is one she hears echoed from
professors who come to help, "You people are doing what
we talk about in the books, but don't always do."
That was when a path began to be worn between Lima and Lawrence.
Every spring semester, Dr. Mayo headed north to chip away
at a master's degree and then a doctorate in psychology, and
every summer Dr. LeBlanc went south with a steadily increasing
cadre of students and professors in tow. Dr. Mayo estimates
that more than 300 people from the university have made the
trip, often using tickets provided by American Airlines.
Dr. Mayo spent her time in Lawrence doing more than reading
books. "I tried not only to study but to look for funding,"
she said. "Always I find people who would give you a
little money, but also try to find you other connections."
Through Dr. LeBlanc, Dr. Mayo met a couple, Drs. Stephen
and Carolyn Schroeder, who had created a nonprofit group called
Annie Sullivan Enterprises to help students with disabilities
who could not afford proper treatment. The Schroeders arranged
for their group to accept donations to give to Dr. Mayo's
center, which made them eligible for a tax deduction.
Word of Dr. Mayo's work spread to the Christian Foundation
for Children and Aging, a charity in Kansas City that sponsors
children around the world. Members of the foundation pay $50
a month each to sponsor 42 of Dr. Mayo's students, according
to its chief executive, Paco Wertin.
Several Roman Catholic churches in the Lawrence area set
aside a yearly collection for Dr. Mayo's school. A priest
at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University
of Kansas asked his chief fundraiser, John M. Flynn, to see
"if there was anything more we could do to help her out,"
Mr. Flynn said. He called Vincent Spader, who had been a partner
of Mr. Flynn's father in an organic fertilizer business.
MR. FLYNN knew that the Spaders were financing housing projects
in Mexico built by Roman Catholic missions. An-other business
they ran, selling health products, had begun to make a larger
contribution to charity possible, Mary Spader said in an interview.
"Vincent always wanted to do something over-seas, but
he wanted to make sure it went through the proper hands to
where it was needed," she recalled. They felt secure
"because John Flynn knew Liliana." The Spaders pledged
$40,000 to construct the first portion of a new building for
the center, Mr. Flynn said.
That summer, Mr. Spader died. Mrs. Spader met Dr. Mayo, consulted
her own children -- "They all kind of participate, since
I'm using their inheritance," she said -- and pledged
an additional $120,000 for the first handicapped accessible
structure in Peru. Since fulfilling that pledge, Mrs. Spader
has continued to send $3,000 a month to the center, according
to Mr. Flynn.
All told, Dr. Mayo said, assistance from overseas makes up
about 80 percent of the center's budget. It doesn't all come
from the American Midwest -- the Dutch Postal Lottery, for
instance, provided $800,000 for the building and a painter
from the Netherlands, Joop van der Wal, spent last week in-stalling
the 40 paintings he had cre-ated in 12 hours to raise money
for the center.
The center now serves 350 students, ranging in age from early
childhood to early adulthood, with autism or other developmental
disabilities. It emphasizes parent training, and its services
include behavioral teaching, vocational instruction and job
placement, Dr. Mayo said. The goal is to prepare students
to live independently; in fact, she said, several graduates
are their family's sole support.
The center also serves as a model for eight similar programs
around Latin America and provides information through its
Spanish-language Web site, annsullivan .fundaciontelefonica.org.pe/.
"They know that the dollars they give us we stretch a
lot," Dr. Mayo said of her donors. "We're very proud
that we do first-class programs with fourth-class salaries."
Mr. Flynn, who has heard and made plenty of appeals himself,
cited several factors that have made Dr. Mayo successful in
finding support. "She has high expectations for those
kids and great love for what she does," he said. "After
being around for 20- plus years, she's a proven commodity."
Copyright (c) 2002 by The New York Times Company.
Reprinted by permission.