Suzanne and John Joseph to be honored at 2022 Lexus Autism Golf Classic

Suzanne and John Joseph to be honored at 2022 Lexus Autism Golf Classic

When their son was diagnosed with autism in 1987 at the age of 3, Suzanne Joseph and her husband, John, found that there weren’t many - in fact, there were hardly any services available in the Wilkes-Barre area that could help them navigate the long road ahead. But she did not let that stop her as she set out to create a path, not only for their son David but for everyone in the autism community.

“At the time Heinz (Allied Services Wilkes-Barre) was really the only place we could go and there used to be a sign up in the lobby that said, ‘WE MOVE MOUNTAINS’. While they couldn’t move all the mountains, they certainly helped us get around them the best we could. In fact, it was one of the therapists at Heinz, Karen Proctor, that came with us to Elizabethtown where we received David’s diagnosis.”

“After we learned that David was autistic, I set out to learn more about autism and educate myself as much as I could. With the support of my husband, our children, and our family, I was able to travel and gather as much information as I could while David was able to maintain his regular routine.”

Suzanne traveled all over going to conferences, schools, and universities meeting with specialists, doctors, autism advocates and speakers.

“Everywhere I went just seemed to have so much more information and so many more programs available. They were just much further ahead with regards to the autistic community than we were in our little corner of Pennsylvania.”

Wanting to share as much information as she could, Suzanne worked with KarenProctor and Tom Pugh at Allied Services to bring in speakers and specialists to hold conferences in the area so parents and professionals in the local community could learn how to help - not just her son, but everyone on the autism spectrum.

“I wanted everyone to have a chance to learn more and see what was out there. If I could help even one other parent, it was all worth it.”

As David’s school years were ending, it became apparent that there were no programs available for young adults with autism. It was at this time the Josephs created the non-profit organization, Thru The Cracks, Inc.

“We had a building in Wilkes-Barre that we had shown to the intermediate unit and said why don’t we start a coffee shop here as a teaching and training site. David had been working at a coffee shop in Pittston and was doing really well. If we started one here, there were definitely enough kids that we could help and we wouldn’t have had to travel as far.”

The plan with the intermediate unit never worked out, but Suzanne’s husband said, “How hard could it be!?!”

John retired from his teaching career in June 2007, and that September along with their family and Barry and the late Judy Gildea - they opened David's Coffee Shop in Wilkes-Barre.

“It was our dream to open a coffee shop where those affected by autism could have a place to learn a skill and be trained in a workplace environment. A place where they felt safe, and would be totally accepted and welcomed.”

The Josephs would get help along the way from family, fellow retired teachers, friends, and even old college roommates - but everyone who worked at David’s coffee shop was a volunteer - no one got paid.

”For 13 years, we didn't make a penny but we were kept afloat by the generous donations of family and friends, and various organizations. It was an extraordinary place! A lot of learning took place at David's and it wasn't just on the trainees' part - our customers learned about autism and became part of the ‘teaching staff’ too“.

After the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic in early 2020, the Joseph’s had to temporarily shut the doors of the coffee shop, however, the lasting regulations and restrictions that resulted, forced them to close David’s Coffee Shop permanently later that summer.

“We wish it could have lasted forever. To us, there was no place that served the autistic population like David's Coffee Shop did.”

Now 36, David continues to live at home with his family and through their own personal experiences, Suzanne and John continue to advocate for early intervention and supportive environments and programs that can direct the fixations of a child with autism in fruitful directions.

“Our David has been an incredible blessing to our family. He has taught us the meaning of unconditional love and he teaches us every day to count our blessings and be thankful for each other.”

In honor of their lifelong commitment to autism advocacy and empowerment of autistic adults in the community and workforce, the Josephs will be recognized as Honored Guests at the 2022 Lexus Autism Golf Classic, scheduled for June 20, 2022 at Huntsville Golf Club. The annual event presented by Motorworld MileOne Autogroup and Motorworld Lexus supports pediatric autism programs at Allied Services.

PHOTO ID: 1st row left to right: Allison Joseph; Anna Joseph; Emma Yelland; 2nd row: John Joseph III; Mike Barna; Linda Barna; 3rd row: Megan Yelland; David Joseph; John Joseph II; Ryan Barna