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A.G. woman finds new way to help old cause

As a new empty nester, Janine Stillman of Arroyo Grande was sitting in her studio with friends and found herself making a puzzle piece out of her medium — fused glass. A friend reminded her it was the autism puzzle symbol. And a whole new career began.

Before becoming a glass artist, Janine worked in Pismo Beach as the director of the Center for Educational Therapy, a business she and Dianne Olvera, an educational therapist, had founded. They helped students with minor disabilities all the way up to the severely autistic with all aspects of education.

Attracted to this field because of her oldest son’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Janine worked closely with autistic students and their parents.

Once she fine-tuned her puzzle piece, she sent photos of it around on the Internet. The pieces can be used as earrings, necklaces, bracelets and more.

She was contacted by Larry Kaplan, chief executive for the U.S. Autism and Asperger’s Association in Utah, after he saw the symbol. She told him she wanted to raise money for his organization. He invited her to Los Angeles for a conference.

“I scrambled and put together a display, packed it up and went to L.A.,” Janine said. That was 2½ years ago. She then built a website and started linking autism nonprofits to raise funds for them.

“They get the word out and direct people to my site and in turn get the donations from those purchases.”

Most items sell for $30 and the groups get $10 or one-third of the purchase price.

This “is my gift back,” she added. “At the Center, I was kind of the crying shoulder. I missed the interaction with the kids and families the most.”

At conferences, Janine gets to have that interaction again with the families. Sometimes they meet at the hotel, then have dinner, and they share their stories.

The Central Coast Autism Spectrum is a local nonprofit with which Janine works. All the money they raise stays in San Luis Obispo County and benefits local families and children.

Janine donates to 19 other autism nonprofits around the country.

In 2011, she raised $33,500 for them all. She goes around the country to conferences and sends puzzle pieces to countries all over the world.

Outside of creating puzzle pieces, Janine displays her glass artwork, including the puzzle pieces, at The Gallery at the Network in San Luis Obispo. Her other work includes vases, jewelry, candle holders and large art pieces.

She displays at several local wineries and helps to recycle wine bottles by creating cracker dishes out of used bottles. You can see her creative work at Rosa’s Restaurant in Pismo Beach. Several beautiful cobalt blue lamps hang over the bar, along with matching bowls on the counter.

Besides her work creating puzzle pieces and other glass art, Janine teaches classes in glass fusion and millefiori jewelry making at Lucia Mar Adult School and San Luis Coastal Adult School.

“I love teaching,” she enthused. “People who have never played with glass before” get so excited when they get started.

Janine can be reached at 459-7296, or email her at Janine@designsbyja9.com. Her website is www.designsbyja9.com.

Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.

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