Family, friends mourn woman who advocated for kids with disabilities
Capital - 6/18/2019
Every year, when Christmas rolls around, RISE for Autism dims the lights and lowers the music at a local Applebee's to give kids with autism a chance to let loose and be themselves as they gear up to celebrate the holiday.
The foundation's "sensory friendly" Christmas breakfast is a huge hit - among parents too, who don't have to worry about fussing over spilled drinks or shushing their children. But one winter, an ice storm threw a wrench in the tradition, and it had to be cancelled.
Santa hadn't gotten the message, though. At 6:30 in the morning, frozen roads be darned, Linda Carter-Ferrier drove to the restaurant to portray St. Nick, as she did every year. When she arrived, she was surprised to find herself alone. She gave a call to Shannon Majoros, the director of programming at RISE.
"I said, 'Linda, it's canceled! There are notes on the road that you're not supposed to be out!'" Majoros recalled. "And she said, 'Well, I couldn't disappoint the kids.'"
That was just how Carter-Ferrier was, Majoros said: A constant cheerleader and champion for children with autism and their families. She seemed to be everywhere - guiding parents through the twists and turns of getting their children the support they needed in the classroom, teaching RISE workshops, leading programs for children with special needs.
Now, the autism advocacy community will have to push forward without its "mayor." Carter-Ferrier and her husband, Brad Ferrier, died Friday night after their vehicle collided with another on Route 295.
Carter-Ferrier first became active in this community after her oldest son, RJ Ferrier, was diagnosed with autism. The Severn woman joined the local chapter of the Autism Society, eventually holding a variety of leadership roles with the organization, including president. Later, she gave birth to another son, who has Asperger's.
Down the road, she became an advocate for kids with special needs and their families in Anne Arundel County Public Schools - after running into obstacle after obstacle while guiding her own kids through the school system, she was committed to helping other families parse through its complicated jargon and paperwork.
Majoros said Carter-Ferrier was special among other advocates in that she was well-respected and liked by both school personnel and families. The relationship between these two parties can sometimes be adversarial, but Carter-Ferrier was dedicated to making sure both sides understood each other's intentions.
"[Parents] get into this situation, and this group is speaking another language," Majoros said. "And here comes Linda, and she can explain to the parents what the school is saying. And she can explain to the school team, you know, this is what the parents want."
Carter-Ferrier wasn't just an advocate for young children with special needs - she followed families as their kids moved from middle school to high school and prepared for graduation, recalled RISE executive director Cheryl Antlitz. Carter-Ferrier, the RISE vice president, held workshops for these families - workshops that she refused to be paid for - and stayed hours after they finished to hand out free advice.
And through it all, Carter-Ferrier and her husband were fiercely proud parents of three sons: RJ, Cory Ferrier and Will Rothrock. Antlitz and Majoros remembered how over the moon Carter-Ferrier was when Cory accepted a position with Google. She rambled off the perks of his new job at one board meeting, they said.
"She would say, 'He's hungry. He just goes and gets a sandwich. If he wants to ride a bike around, he just goes and checks the bike out," Antlitz said. "She was just beaming."
And Ferrier was a fantastic father, the best son-in-law Carter-Ferrier's mom said she could have asked for. At 3 and 4-years old, he and Carter-Ferrier played in the sandbox together. They married after reconnecting while pursuing their doctoral degrees at the University of Washington.
Ferrier was the family's rock, Judy Carter-Johnson said. She called him, 'the cloud guy' - he worked as a cloud specialist with NASA Goddard for years, and later became a project manager at the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction.
"I'd ask him, 'Is it going to rain tomorrow?' And he'd say, 'Turn on Channel 5 news, I don't know that,'" Carter-Johnson said, laughing.
Next week, RISE will host their annual bike camp, striving to teach children with special needs how to ride a bicycle. But, for the first time in a long time, they will do so without Carter-Ferrier at the helm.
Antlitz and Majoros are preparing for an emotional week, where the gap left behind by Carter-Ferrier will be hard to miss.
"She'd be four sessions in and we wouldn't have enough volunteers and there would go Linda, running after a camper," Majoros recalled. "She was just always wherever you needed her."
Credit: By Angela Roberts - Capital Gazette
Caption: From left, Hannah Schroeder, a RISE program assistant, Shannon Majoros, RISE director of programming, and RISE executive director Cheryl Antlitz, hold a photo of the RISE volunteers at a Christmas breakfast with Linda Carter-Ferrier dressed as Santa.
Angela Roberts/Capital Gazette