Thomas E. Penders
Archaeologists for Autism
Father, Innovator, and Devoted to Children with Autism
My husband Tom is tireless. I am partially disabled and we have a daughter who is blind, autistic and has epilepsy. He works a 40 hour work week and comes home and helps around the house and works with our daughter Becky. IN addition to all this Tom helps with my daughter's Challenger League baseball team and goes out of his way to find activities for Becky to participate in to give her as "normal" a childhood as possible. He is devoted to Becky and when she had a bad seizure in 2012 he researched and lobbied to obtain a seizure alert service dog which he is also the handler and keeps up the dog's training. Tom takes us to every doctor appointment, takes me to physical therapy, and any place we need to go.
Tom has quietly created a program training university students in archaeology fieldwork (he is an archaeologist) so they can get experience as part of their education and assist them with finding a job. My husband has given up his Sundays for the past 10 years for these kids. Several of these students have gone on to schools for their PhDs, have jobs because of him, and all consider my husband a friend and mentor. In 2014, my husband became concerned about low functioning autistic children being excluded from activities so he created Archaeologists for Autism, a nonprofit organization, from nothing. Tom wanted to make sure all children on the spectrum got to experience archaeology, visit a museum, do simulated digs, meet archaeologists and paleontologists, and have fun at the same time. What most people don't know is Tom sometimes works on Archaeologists for Autism until 2 or 3 am after working all day AND spending time with us in the evening. My husband NEVER asks for anything for himself. In fact, he asked the family to donate to Archaeologists for Autism instead of giving him a Christmas present. My husband's dream is to grow Archaeologists for Autism into a larger event spanning the US and make it even better and do actual archaeological excavations with all autistic participants. He has even gone back to school to get a degree in Applied Behavior Analysis to have formal credentials for AFA.
Throughout all these years Tom has never promoted himself or have asked for anything for himself. He gives so much to us and others but never to himself. He doesn't seek accolades or praise and this is why I think he deserves this award.