Reach For The Stars With Naiya Grace-A Hope For Autism

Written by Trevor Montgomery

Riverside County News Source


Ask Kelly and Pamela Schlenz, and they will both tell you their daughter Naiya Grace’s potential is limitless. According to them and countless others, the only proof anyone would need is to see how far she has progressed in the last two years.

As a baby, Naiya was diagnosed with Autism and until recently has never made a connection with anyone around her. In spite of that fact, anyone who knew the Naiya from just two years ago compared to the Naiya of today has nothing but praise for the huge strides the young girl has made just in the last few months.

Naiya’s parents, family and other loved ones believe the reason for Naiya’s amazing improvement has been due to her participation in the Son-Rise Program, part of the Autism Treatment Center for America.

About his daughter, Naiya’s father Kelly recently said, “We believe in her ability to do all things through Christ! Yes, Naiya has Autism, but the Autism does not define her or restrict her. She is the most amazing, and brilliant little girl and God has great plans for her.”

Continuing, Kelly said, “As her parents, Pamela and I have chosen to believe that Naiya CAN! We have chosen to put zero restrictions on her and to believe in and hope for the very best for her. We have chosen to love her, join her, accept her and guide her on a path towards the stars. Because she just like anyone else, she is capable of reaching them!”


My Life Changed In Ways

I Never Could Have Imagined

In talking about the Son-Rise Program, Naiya’s mother Pamela said, “The Son-Rise Program has changed my life in ways I never would have imagined. It has shaped the way my husband and I parent all of our children. It has reminded us to love unconditionally and that we have the ability to choose joy, even in the roughest of times. It has taught us how to feel hopeful and at peace about our daughter’s future.”

According to Pamela, Naiya never used to look when someone would call her name. She did not acknowledge her parents when they would come home from being gone, or call them mommy or daddy. Before being introduced to the Son-Rise Program, Naiya would spend many long hours simply lining up objects in groups of three or talking to herself in the mirrors.

“The Son-Rise Program taught us how to meet Naiya where she was at and embrace those moments with her. It helped us develop a relationship with Naiya that we so deeply longed for. Naiya now has more words than we can count,” according to Pamela.

Pamela continued, “Naiya now knows all of our names including her own. She looks to us when we call her name. The growth we have seen in the last few years and the growth we continue to see each day is phenomenal.”


“Autism Is Not Who Naiya Is”

Mary Relyea, Naiya’s grandmother recently said, “Autism is not who Naiya is, it is just where she lives right now.” Mary steadfastly believes the teachings and techniques Naiya’s parents have learned from the Son-Rise Program have helped Naiya begin her journey out of autism.

According to Mary, it was not long ago that Naiya did not speak at all and did not seem to have any comprehension or connection to the world around her. She was lost in her own world. About the interactions with the outside world Naiya did have, Mary said, “The world around Naiya often frightened and terrified her. She would have outbursts; with screaming, scratching and biting, because she had no other way of communicating.”

Mary continued, “Naiya could not communicate what she wanted or what was bothering her. She seemed to not recognize others and she did not interact with anyone.”  But according to Mary, things are different now, “Now this precious little girl looks in my eyes and touches my face and says, ‘Meemaw’.  Does it get more precious than that?”

Gushing, like any grandmother would, Mary said, “Naiya takes my hand now and leads me to what she wants. She speaks and understands hundreds of words.  We laugh together.  We play together. Naiya knows me, and she knows each member of the family.”

About Naiya’s future prospects, Mary’s response was firm, “Naiya is on her way out of Autism.  Yes, it is a hope and a dream, but it is reachable.”


“The Son-Rise Program”

A Different Way Of Looking At Autism

Jennifer Reese, Pamela’s cousin, is another firm believer in the progress Naiya has made, with help and guidance from the Son-Rise Program. About her relationship with Naiya, Jennifer recently said, “Before this year, my connection with Naiya, other than a family one, was non-existent. I had never received a smile, eye contact, or even engaged in a simple peek-a-boo game with her.”

Jennifer explained, “I didn’t really know what autism was or how it translates to difficulty communicating & connecting to others. I didn’t know or think that I, or anyone for that matter, could do something that could help her overcome the challenges she was experiencing.”

About her role in Naiya’s progress, Jennifer said, “The playtime training I received from the Son-Rise Program seemed counter-intuitive at first. Here I was in a room with a child with whom I had never previously been able to engage with. Rather than pulling some of my old tricks out of the bag, like silly faces and noises like I was used to, I was encouraged to watch what Naiya was doing and join her. Whatever Naiya was doing, I was encouraged to do the same thing. If she was folding a piece of paper into quarters and then unfolding it and starting over, I was to do the same.”

Although reluctant at first, when Jennifer tried the program something amazing and wonderful happened; Naiya looked up at her. About the moment, Jennifer said, “Her big beautiful eyes met mine as if it was the first time she ever noticed I was even there! Then Naiya sat on my lap. I was absolutely amazed.”

“This was a completely different child than I had known from before,” Jennifer continued, “That day, I became a believer that Autism and it’s affect on Naiya could be modified. That day, I realized the importance of the Son-Rise Program. That day, I realized that Naiya can have a different future and that I could be an active part of Naiya’s future in a big and meaningful way!”


“Naiya Can And Will ‘Get Better'”

Kevin Relyea, Naiya’s grandfather recently told me he believes that even though Naiya is just one of countless young people impacted by Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorders, he believed Naiya’s chances at achieving a more fulfilling life was better than most others. The reason he stated he believed that to be true was that unlike so many children with similar challenges, Naiya’s parents have come to believe very strongly that Naiya can and will “get better”.

Kevin explained, “Every week we get to see Naiya grow exponentially. While she has so much to learn, each day we see growth upon growth. Unlike just a year ago, earlier today when I greeted her she immediately connected with me, looked me right in the eyes for a solid 20 seconds, smiled beautifully at me and greeted me with a loving, ‘Poppy’!” Kevin continued, “Last night Naiya even asked her mom not to leave her, using a full sentence!”

Kevin firmly believes that each day Naiya is becoming further evidence that Autism does need not to be a “life sentence.” According to Kevin, “The ‘Reach For The Stars’ event will help the Schlenz Family get more training from the Son-Rise Program. It will help them share what they have learned with the hope that the training and education they have gained will be able to help other families.”

Continuing, Kevin said, “’Reach For The Stars’ will help Pamela and Kelly prepare to some day potentially help hundreds of other families who desperately need what they have learned along with the hope that the program, training and education provides.”


“There Is A Way Out Of Autism”

About Autism and the Son-Rise Program, Mary said, “There is a way out of Autism. It is a reachable dream for us and for others. I believe that if more people knew about this program and could embrace these techniques, we would be seeing a decrease in Autism, through cure, instead of the steady increase we are now plagued with.”

“For our little angel girl, the ‘Reach For The Stars” event in Idyllwild will help raise funds so Naiya can go the next step in her journey. It is meant to give back to those who have been journeying with Naiya, and to allow them to help her continue her journey.” Mary continued, “This event can be a way of getting that word out, of helping others to find the dream for their own loved ones. This can be a way of helping others reach for the Stars.”

If you want to follow Naiya’s progress, you can do so on her Facebook page, Vessel Of Grace.

Reach For The Stars With Naiya

If you want to join the Schlenz family at “Reach For The Stars”, on November 21, you can expect a fun-filled night with live music performed by Teryn and Curtis McPherson, comedy performed by Adam Cozens and spoken-word performances by Arielle Wilburn.

Attendees will enjoy local food from Artisan’s Palate in Temecula, as well as desserts and beverages. There will also be booths featuring The Son-Rise Program, of the Autism Treatment Center Of AmericaLicata NUCCA Chiropractic, Young Living Essential Oils.

Additionally, there will be drawings featuring baskets including overnight stays at “swanky” hotels, and other baskets will feature entertainment and restaurant gift certificates for both the Idyllwild and San Diego areas. Reach for the Stars T-Shirts will be available, and guests will even have the opportunity to have their caricature sketched.


General admission for the evening is $20 and tickets for both admission as well as for the drawings can be purchased here. Reach For The Stars is also accepting donations from those who can not attend the evening’s festivities, but would still like to help Naiya Reach For The Stars. Drawing tickets are available for purchase in advance as well as the night of the event. For those unable to attend, you do not have to be present to win.

The Evening’s Entertainment


Come see Adam Cozens, thought by some, but not all, members of his immediate family to be one of the best stand up comedians working today. Off stage, he is a phenomenal writer for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and Funny or Die. Adam has also been seen on MTV, TBS, HBO and Nickelodeon.

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Enjoy live music by Teryn and Curtis McPherson. When one hears Teryn’s voice, It is no mystery that her primary influences include Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra and Kurt Elling. Teryn performs regularly with her small band, the Teryn Ré Small Band and her big band, the Teryn Ré Big Band. Venues Teryn’s band(s) have performed at include the Baked Potato and the Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles. Other monthly performances include the Hip Kitty in Claremont, and the Bacchus Secret Wine Shoppe in Irvine.


Attendees will also get to enjoy the spoken word by LA phenom Arielle Wilburn. Arielle is best known for her, “Words not for the ears but for the soul.” Arielle is a Spoken Word Artist, Blogger, Speaker and Creative Curator. The heartbeat behind her work is a diligent pursuit of instilling and reminding individuals of their worth through encouraging and inspiring words. Arielle has spoken at various universities such as Azusa Pacific University, Cal State Fullerton and UCLA as well as conferences in California and beyond.


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