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Reyne Haines: Celebrity Collector: Holly Robinson Peete

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Photo Credit: Marta Elena Vassilakis

There are two main reasons I hear time and again why celebrities (and everyday people) collect things.

The first being the items relate to their current job (i.e., an athlete collecting sports memorabilia). The second reason is nostalgia; things that relate to a special time or place in their childhood.

Actress Holly Robinson Peete was great to interview as she was a memory from my teen years, her collecting interests began with a favorite item from her childhood, and one of her passions has to do with children.

21 Jump Street was one of the few shows I remember watching in high school outside of MTV. Peete was cast as Officer Judy Hoffs and appeared in over 100 episodes. I loved her cameo in the recent 21 Jump Street. Twenty years later, Peete still looks the same!

Recently, she partnered with AT&T and launched a 10-week campaign "Speak Hope" centered on helping those diagnosed with autism and their families. Throughout the duration of the campaign, a variety of success stories will be submitted via Facebook in an effort to help illustrate how innovative technology can help people overcome everyday challenges. This isn't just another celebrity spokesperson opportunity for Peete. It's one that is near as dear to her heart as her son was diagnosed with Autism and she has been heavily involved in the community ever since.

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Rosalind - Photo Credit: Holly Robinson Peete Family

In her downtime, which there is little of when you are a wife and mother of four, she enjoys building a collection that started oh so long ago...

I love hearing stories about what inspired people to collect things. What is yours?

When I was a little girl in Philly I couldn't find many Barbie dolls or rag dolls that looked like me. My mom made me a black Raggedy Ann doll and all of my friends were so jealous! "Rosalind" went everywhere with me, and from that day on, I started collecting dolls.

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Steven Burrows "Pazette" Barbie Photo Credit: Holly Robinson Peete

Your collecting passion is in African-American dolls. Is there a specific type you look for (vintage, contemporary, cloth, etc.)?

You name it! I collect everything from Barbies, to antique, vintage rag, Caribbean, African and even early-century dolls.

Demi Moore shares your passion of collecting dolls. Have you met anyone else with a similar collection?

I meet so many people online, which is where I do most of my shopping. Chat rooms are so much fun, and provide a great platform to meet people with a variety of unique interests. Doll collecting has been a passion of mine for so long now, and with the help of the Internet, the selections and options available have evolved and become so much easier to access.

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Photo Credit: Holly Robinson Peete

What is the most treasured doll in your collection, and why?

That's like picking my favorite child out of 200! But there are a couple of dolls I really treasure: A mother/daughter set I bought in Paris at a flea market in the '80s. The faces are hand-painted and the skin is velvet fabric! I also cherish my Steven Burrows "Pazette" Barbie. She put the "F" in fierce!

***

Sadly, I did not keep the Barbie dolls I had growing up. With what some of them bring at auction, I'd be broke trying to buy them back. Thanks for sharing your collection with me!

Holly and her husband Rodney created a foundation to help those with autism and Parkinson's disease. To learn more, visit their website HollyRod Foundation

Follow her on Twitter @HollyRPeete

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Meg Harris: Why A Rhinestone Bracelet Meant The World To My Daughter And Me

One of the challenges that I have with my daughter Eliza, who has atypical Rett Syndrome, is her unawareness of others' personal space. She explores her world through touch, so when she sees something of interest, she reaches out for it. This becomes a difficult situation to manage while we are traveling, because we often find ourselves in lines, and I feel as though I spend a great amount of time apologizing to others because of her actions. What I have found more and more as I travel, however, is that others are actually quite tolerant of her actions. These strangers are often reassuring me that it is "OK" and that they understand. I see the most wonderful things happen as their faces warm and they begin to engage Eliza in conversation. They are accepting and they are kind and a flood of relief washes over me as I realize that it really is OK.

I recently took a trip to NYC with my children, and I encountered many wonderful moments with strangers in response to Eliza. One of my favorite moments was when we were in line at The Minskoff Theatre to see The Lion King. There were quite a few people waiting to be let in, and right in front of us were two women. I think they were mother and daughter -- maybe in their 40s and 60s. The daughter was standing directly in front of Eliza; she was dressed beautifully, with fancy shoes and glitter jewelry, and Eliza was mesmerized by her. She reached out to touch the woman, and as usual, I grabbed out for her hand -- but it was too late. The woman turned and smiled and then turned back around. A moment later Eliza did it again, and the woman turned around again and this time bent down to Eliza and said "Hello."

I saw that familiar warmth in the woman's eyes as she spoke to my daughter. A huge smiled came across Eliza's face, and she told the woman how much she liked her shoes. While the woman was speaking to her, Eliza saw that she had two beautiful "diamond" (rhinestone) bracelets on her wrist. She reached for them and expressed great appreciation for them. This woman and my daughter interacted with one another for a few minutes, and then the woman took off one of her bracelets and put it on Eliza's wrist. I told her that she did not need to do that, but she insisted. She told me that she hoped the bracelet would always remind Eliza of her time at The Lion King, and she knew that the remaining bracelet on her wrist would always remind her of Eliza. It was a truly beautiful moment. Eliza spent the evening admiring her new bracelet and showing it off to anyone and everyone who passed by her.

I think it is important for us as parents of special needs children to realize that the world is catching on -- that others are opening their hearts to these amazing children and their families. You, like me, need to realize that it really is OK, and that people are beginning to understand and appreciate our children, and embrace all of their differences. I am so pleased that my daughter, Eliza, can be an ambassador of sorts to start educating and empowering these people as we travel the globe together.

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Jonathan Agin: Be Careful What You Wish for, Michael Alan -- You Do Not Wish Your Kids Had Cancer

Mr. Alan, first let me say to you that I am sorry that your family has faced the very difficult struggle of raising two children with autism. I frankly cannot imagine how difficult that has to be for you, your wife, your extended family and friends. I am assuming it is sufficiently tough enough that you felt the need to share your story with the world in the manner in which you did. Having a child with autism was a significant concern of mine prior to the birth of my first child Alexis back in January 2006. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Alan's story, he has written a book titled I Wish My Kids Had Cancer: A Family Surviving the Autism Epidemic. I will admit, I have not had a chance to read the book yet. I probably will not take the opportunity to read the book either. First, I have not had much time recently to do any type of pleasure reading. But more importantly, I am more than mildly offended by your chosen and blatantly ignorant title.

You see Mr. Alan, until April 10, 2008, I worried about having a child with autism. I was worried about having a child with severe autism and never being able to connect. But then, on April 10, 2008 cancer knocked on our door and without an invitation took up residence in our then 27-mont-old daughter Alexis. And this was not the "good" kind of cancer Mr. Alan. You know, the cancer that you must allude to in your title. The, "go to St. Jude's, go bald, stay at Ronald McDonald House, and then live happily ever after cancer." No Mr. Alan, this was the "your child will be dead within six to nine months from the time of diagnosis." "There are no known treatments." That is the type of cancer that made a life for itself in my daughter's brain.

My daughter battled each and every day for 33 months before she ultimately was stolen away from us on January 14, 2011. I watched as she took her last breath. I watched as her casket was lowered into the ground. That is the type of cancer that found my child. Still wish your kids had cancer Mr. Alan? The simple fact of the matter is that many children do not survive the diagnosis of cancer. Having your child diagnosed with cancer means that there is a very real chance that they will not live. For those who are lucky enough to be labeled survivor, the path beyond that designation is anything but pleasant. Along the road to being labeled a survivor, most of these children are pumped full of 30, 40 and 50-year-old poisons that indiscriminately destroy everything in their path. The child is left unable to eat, sleep, leave a sterile setting, or lift their head off of a pillow. Families lose their houses, jobs, marriages, friends and everything in between. I could inundate you with numbers and statistics, Mr. Alan; however, I am simply trying to demonstrate to you that you have it completely wrong when it comes to your wish that your children had cancer. Feel free to Google "childhood cancer", or even take a few minutes to read a little on my website. Maybe I could change your mind about what you wish for your children.

I am curious if this is the picture of childhood cancer that you had in mind, Mr. Alan? Many parents who hear the words "your child has cancer" have walked the same path that my family walked. In fact, I know more parents and caregivers who have lost a child to cancer than those who have had a child that survived. I am simply here to say to you, Mr. Alan, be careful what you wish for in life. You have every right to pen this book and tell the world your story. In fact, I do not support the petitions directed towards Amazon seeking to have your book removed. You have every right to have your book in the stream of commerce. And, as I said in the beginning of this piece, I have no idea what each and every day is like in your house. I have no knowledge where on the "spectrum" your children fall. I truly feel for your family. There is one fact that I do know, Mr. Alan, and that is at the end of the day, no matter how difficult your life may be, you have the opportunity to actually see your child living and breathing in your house. So, I wish my child did not have cancer. I simply wish my child were healthy. And thus, I am simply suggesting that you educate yourself about the realities of childhood cancer. For many, it is a death sentence. In the future, please do not make such offensive and uneducated statements. I ask you Mr. Alan, do you still wish your kids had cancer?

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Shanell Mouland: Why Woody And Jessie Enjoy My Daughter's Autism

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I remember the day like it was yesterday. A day when my eldest girl, only 4, decided she was too old for the toys that she had adored to the point of obsession for so long. She was sacrificing her best friends in favor of saucy ponies that worried about the style of their manes and princesses that dreamed of a prince charming. Woody, neither a gentleman nor a scholar, but a worship-worthy hero in his own right, was left at the bottom of the toy bin trapped beneath discarded Barbie parts and long forgotten "baby" toys. Jessie, his gender-stereotype smashing sidekick, would suffer a less dignified fate when she would be found under the play table helping to balance an uneven leg. I rescued these two loyal friends as I knew our littlest girl would soon be 2 and they would once again find a loving home.

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As the little one grew and autism was diagnosed, these two cast-offs would benefit from that diagnosis in a way that only a toy could. Not only did she love these two best friends, but she needed them; she ate, slept and breathed them. She perseverated on Woody and Jessie and their feature films like a maniacal little film critic. She learned to use language through them and to this day she has never let them go. They are as important to her today as the day she discovered them. She offers these toys a level of love and respect that is unmatched and I'm sure they give it right back. I'm not hard-pressed to find positives in my daughter's autism diagnosis, and I'm guessing Woody and Jessie might feel the same.

Follow Shanell Mouland on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GoTeamKate

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Meg Harris: Special Needs Family Travel

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MEG HARRIS
Meg Harris

As a child I was blessed with the gift of travel. My family traveled extensively, all across the globe and I wanted to give this gift to my own two children. I had barriers, though, that my parents did not. The first was that I am a single parent of two young children and just traveling alone with them was a daunting prospect. To add to that difficulty, my daughter, Eliza, was born with atypical Rett Syndrome and requires one-on-one care for her safety. It would take me days and even weeks to research destinations and find the kinds of resources that my family would need. In talking with other parents of special needs children, I found that most of these families either chose not to travel or one parent would stay at home with their special needs child while their siblings and other parent went on vacation. There was always a sadness in their voices because of the disconnect of their family experiences, but they would say that it was just too scary or too hard to try to travel with all of their children. It is my own experiences as well as the experiences of these families that was my inspiration for SpecialGlobe.

SpecialGlobe is an online social community and resource where parents and caregivers of all children can come together to discuss the opportunities of travel, music, art and theater. It is a group that works to empower families by sharing destination guides specific to the needs of their children and their family situations. SpecialGlobe visits and researches hotels, restaurants, attractions and activities and explains how they cater to individual needs. Along with those resources are wonderful articles written by travel experts and Special Needs organizations such as the March of Dimes, Easter Seals, Autism Society and YAI. Lastly, SpecialGlobe's community allows families the ability to book their hotels and eventually their flights all in one centralized place.

Studies have shown that all children benefit from the new experiences that travel can bring. This is even more impactful for children with special needs. I know the delight that I have seen in my daughter Eliza's face when she flew on an airplane for the first time, or experienced The Lion King on stage in New York City is something that I would never give up. I am a strong believer that knowledge is power and that knowledge conquers fear. It is my hope that through the community of SpecialGlobe we will empower more families like mine to travel together, and to create family memories that will last a lifetime.

Follow Meg Harris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/specialglobe

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