In honor of our seven Founders, we get to know one Alpha Chi Omega through seven questions.
Samantha Piovesan (Zeta Psi, Loyola University New Orleans)
After navigating an autism diagnosis with her son Gabe, Samantha has become an autism acceptance advocate and founded her own nonprofit, Gabe’s Friends, to help other families with a child with autism.
Q: How are you making a difference in the world?
A: Mentoring. Either through my nonprofit in assisting families with preparing for a new life with a newly diagnosed child or with peers looking to expand on their careers and improve themselves, mentoring is a way for me to share my experiences – the good, bad and ugly – with those willing to learn. I make it a point to give back as much as possible. I speak yearly for my Fortune 500 company on autism acceptance. I host seminars for families on how to facilitate at-home therapy sessions. I make sure to offer 99.9% of my services free of charge.
Q: Why did you create your nonprofit, Gabe’s Friends, and what is its mission?
A: I created my nonprofit because I was once a very lost mom with a newly diagnosed child. I was fortunate enough to have resources around me to provide me guidance. I am an excessive note taker and just applied all my notes, what to do and not do, into a guide for parents in my exact spot. That is how my program was born. Our mission is to help all “Gabe’s Friends” with adapting and teaching family members about acceptance.
Q: What does it mean to be an autism acceptance advocate?
A: To me, it means educating about autism and how society can practice inclusion and acceptance. It means educating that different isn’t weird or contagious. It means sharing that although you might not be able to empathize with someone who has autism, what you are able to show is compassion.
Q: What advice would you give to parents with a child who has been newly diagnosed?
A: The first thing I would tell them is to give their baby a nice, long hug because nothing has changed. Then I would advise them on what they should plan for. Rather than them having to do all the research, I have done it all for them. That takes away a bulk of the stress. I would then provide them words of encouragement. We are our child’s biggest advocate, and the complexities in autism only give us a small window of time to prepare them for their first obstacle: school. I make sure they know that I will guide them and hold their hands as much as they need. Very often I become friends with parents because they share very detailed aspects of their lives and allow me the opportunity to help.
Q: What is the best life lesson you’ve learned?
A: Building genuine relationships is a life skill you should master. Learning how to effectively communicate with people of all different understanding levels is what will set you up for success as a strong leader. Those genuine relationships will lead to trust. Trust is what people will remember and will make them more inclined to want to work with you or have a personal/professional relationship with you.
Q: How has Alpha Chi Omega had an impact in your life?
A: I keep our motto of “seeking the heights” close to my heart. I have our Symphony framed on my desk and read it when I can. It is a reminder of who I am as the woman I have built myself to be, but also the woman I continue to strive for. Participating in collegiate chapter events and being a chapter advisor also impacted my life because it is a reminder that to this day, 14 years after I accepted our bid, we still hold our standards high and each chapter consists of dynamic women willing to make a difference.
Q: What does being a real, strong woman mean to you?
A: Gosh…this question has so many levels. It means remembering not to let best get in the way of better. There is always room to learn and grow. It means that in those moments where you know you are struggling, you accept it, take a step back and try your best to power through. As a single working mom to a special needs child, I face this DAILY. It is OK to have good days and bad days, and sometimes you WON’T be strong. Take those 45 minutes to yourself, hide in a closet and eat that Reese’s. If you need to cry to a Carrie Underwood song, DO IT; “Jesus Take the Wheel” is my go-to song.
It means to be aware of what your strengths are, but also your weaknesses. Work on those weaknesses and be open to feedback. Expanding on these weaknesses will only strengthen your brand. As much time as you focus on yourself, always remember to give back. Even if it is one time a year, find an organization that is fitting for you and dedicate your time. It costs nothing to show compassion. More importantly, love yourself just as hard as you love those around you. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail. Learn from it and have it be part of your growth. Strength doesn’t mean perfection. It means that when the struggle gets real, you do not let it defeat you.
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