SOMERSET – The phoenix is a mythological bird often associated with the idea of rebirth or resurrection. This idea comes from the fact that only one phoenix can exist at a time, and as the bird nears its end, it ignites and from its ashes would rise a new phoenix to take flight.
Somerset Tours and Travels, owned by Kathleen Scallon, uses the image of the phoenix as its logo, an apt symbol of how Scallon also rose from the ashes, literally and figuratively.
Scallon has been selling travel for over 10 years, but in 2017 the storefront of Somerset Tours and Travels was destroyed in a fire. That hasn’t stopped Scallon, who is a retired postman, however, and neither has COVID, as she’s back in business, ready to help people take flight like the mythological bird.
Save and run after the fire
While Scallon acknowledged that traveling during the pandemic was a risk, being a travel agent is something she takes seriously.
“I’m not just selling a trip to sell a trip,” says Scallon.
She also wholeheartedly believes that everyone deserves to fly in a friendly sky, even those with special needs or disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder or ASD.
While the company can help with trips with special needs, specifically offering wheelchair and oxygen services, Scallon was inspired to expand its services after meeting a family who have a 12-year-old son with d ‘autism.
“They didn’t know a good place to go, and neither did I and I didn’t want to guess,” Scallon said. This prompted her to do more research because the “last thing I want to do is send someone with (ASD sound issues) on a cruise ship.”
She was also worried that the family was not going to take their son with them on a trip. Scallon couldn’t help but wonder, “Why can’t he go?”
Scallon began to dig. She came across the Certified Autism Travel Professional, or CATP, program organized by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
Scallon admits that upon entering the program, she had no knowledge of autism and various aspects of the spectrum, but she wanted to learn as much as she could for the families she hopes to help.
While she has completed the program and is currently CATP certified, Scallon says she has so much more to learn due to the complexity of ASD.
ASD, which is a developmental disorder, affects about 1 in 54 children, according to the CDC, which has increased since 2000, when about 1 in 150 children have been diagnosed. Symptoms vary depending on where the child is on the spectrum, which is one of the most important lessons Scallon learned during the certification process. For example, she learned that some are more sensitive to sound and texture, but she also learned that there are various resorts that can help families who may have a child on the spectrum.
According to Scallon, she learned how inclusive Beaches Resorts by Sandals are for children with autism. She also discovered that there are resorts that have trained professionals to care for children with ASD. “I was really impressed with it. It’s not just a babysitter, but people who are trained “to interact with children with autism,” says Scallon.
If the kids have texture or color issues, there are chefs who will have conversations with parents to make sure the kid has the most comfortable dining experience possible.
Speaking of what she learned during the certification process, Scallon says, “I’m proud of it. I can help more people now. Everyone should be able to go on vacation.
She will need to recertify her CATP every two years, and she is currently working on another certification program, Applied Behavioral Analysis Program Guide for Top Autism Friendly Vacations.
Scallon jokes that she always wanted to be a philanthropist, but because she didn’t have the money for this kind of work, she figured it would be a good way to give back.
“I didn’t do this for the money. It’s too important to do just for the money because there is too much at stake, ”says Scallon. “By the grace of God, me too. “
And that couple who started this journey? Scallon says the whole family, including their 12-year-old son, will be vacationing in Jamaica.