After scurrying through the hallways of the Habersham YMCA with her son Nate attached to her leg, Katrina Laygo finally reached the room where she was due to teach a spin class.
This time, she was early to the class, but just as if she was running late, she was still frazzled, which she said is nothing out of the ordinary.
Her job at the YMCA is only a part time gig, and the rest of the time Laygo is busy being a mother to her five children and running her own magazine called Something Special. The magazine is a free publication for parents of children with special needs.
She started the magazine two years ago when Nate, the fourth of her five children, was first diagnosed with autism.
“I wanted to inspire and inform parents. I wanted what I didn’t have when Nate was diagnosed with autism, so I made it myself,” she says.
The magazine focuses on families living with special needs children and the events, recipes, and places that these types of families will enjoy.
Inside, readers can find advice from moms, therapists, and lawyers about how to be a better parent to their special needs child.
“In every single issue, we tackle what people want to know with a slant on special needs,” says Laygo.
Laygo is also proud to note that Something Special acknowledges the challenges of the siblings of a special needs child a voice.
“Siblings of special needs children are very special people. We give them a voice,” she says. “They share with us the good, the bad, the awesome — anything that they encounter while being a brother or sister to a child with special needs.”
The chief writer for the publication, Avis Coleman, says she is touched by many of the people whose stories she helps to tell.
“It does feel wonderful to highlight these families’ struggles and triumphs,” she says. “I always end up crying by the end of my interview because I’m so inspired by these incredible parents.”
Between her children and her work, Laygo’s a busy woman, but she says she still manages to juggle it all.
“I just do the best I can do. I definitely don’t try to shoot for perfect because it’s ridiculous,” Laygo says. “If I say I’m going to do something, I’ll do it. It may take me a little longer than most people to get it done, but it will be done.”
The magazine has grown and Laygo says she thinks it will only continue to grow.
“It’s produced all over Georgia and now, South Carolina. We have had interest in it being produced in upstate New York, Boston and Cleveland,” she says.
The success of the magazine has spurred Laygo to create a nonprofit organization that gives scholarships to high school seniors with special needs. It was one of the magazine’s readers, actually, that inspired her to start the scholarship fund, named Nathan’s Something Special Scholarship Fund Inc., after her son.
Last year was the first year the nonprofit awarded scholarships, and it was awarded to two students, Matthew Hunt from Georgia and Martinez Johnson from South Carolina. This year, scholarships will go to four students, two from Georgia and two from South Carolina.
In a fundraiser held last year, they raised more than $1,000 for the scholarship fund. The 2nd annual fundraiser was held on Oct. 27, and the exact number raised has yet to be calculated because donations can come from online as well.
But the scholarship fund received a $500 donation from the Atlanta Braves in June, so Laygo says she is hopeful that numbers will be up this year.
With her hard work and her great attitude to boot, the people around her say it’s hard to deny that Laygo is an inspiration.
“I don’t know how she does it,” says Elizabeth Rountree, a member of the YMCA class. “Look at all of her other kids, and the autism and she bakes. She’s very fabulous.”
Chief writer Coleman says she was initially hesitant to take the job, but ultimately it was hard to say no to Laygo when she offered her the chance to write for Something Special.
“When she first told me about her idea and asked me to write for her magazine, I was honored but felt unworthy. I didn’t know if I could ever do justice to the families who endure and achieve so much on behalf of their children. But she convinced me and it has truly been a blessing in my life,” Coleman says.
Because of her hard work to educate parents and spread awareness about special needs, Laygo was awarded with The Global Women’s Summit Award. Laygo says receiving the award was unexpected. “I was honored, to say the least,” she say.
Laygo hopes to continue to spread awareness about autism and expand her magazine.
“In the future I would like to see the magazine get big enough where we did need to have a satellite office because there’s something about being around a bunch of people and bouncing ideas off of each other,” Laygo says.
Writer Avis Coleman is similarly inspired by Laygo herself.
“Katrina never ceases to amaze me with her energy, her ideas, her passion, her sense of humor. She is tirelessly devoted to all five of her children, not just precious Nate,” says Coleman.
“I want to be just like Katrina when I grow up.”Visit somethingspecialmagazine.com. The next issue of Something Special comes out online and in print Dec. 1.
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