A local woman is selling salsa in order to help relieve parents whose children have been newly diagnosed with autism and give them a Parent’s Night Out.

And it’s completely free.

Marlene Espinoza, founder of Mami’s Salsa, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, sells salsa at the Farmers Market most Saturdays. Espinoza has used the funds from selling her homemade salsa to create a specialized sensory room for children with autism at Life Gate Church.

Parents — who sign up beforehand — may drop their children off during the third Friday of each month and spend those three hours doing whatever they choose to do.

“We just want to rethink what it is to come into the community for parents of children with autism,” said Espinoza. “And I know that it’s overwhelming, and there’s days that you’re tired, and you wanted to give up, and you cry, and you don’t know what else to do, and you feel inadequate — but I want them to know that they are loved and that we are not just going to be a place that we tell them that and then send them on their way. But I thought, if there was something that I could do that was tangible like give them the rest that I so direly needed, then I was going to do my best to do that.”

They will even get a special VIP card that will allow them to go to different businesses and receive either completely free items or items at a certain percentage off, she said.

“We not only wanted to give them the time, but encourage them to come into town and enjoy themselves if they can,” said Espinoza.

Espinoza’s son David, who is now 11, was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old.

“When he was diagnosed, we didn’t have a lot of time to ourselves or to rest or time with our other children,” said Espinoza. She has four children, but only two live at home. “It was very taxing on our marriage and our family. We moved here from California and we didn’t have a family outlet here.”

She said that, even if parents have a family outlet, often times it is hard for family members to watch children with autism because they do not know how to handle all of the traits and behaviors that come along with it.

Items in the sensory room include, but are not limited to: bean bag chairs, weighted blankets, sensory boards, a small trampoline and also a sensory cocoon that hangs from the ceiling and keeps the child nice and snug. The room is lit with ambient lighting as not to overload the child’s senses and the floor is completely covered in padding.

Those interested may contact Mami’s Salsa Inc. on Facebook or call 574-702-5771.

Reach Tyra Bahney at tyra.bahney@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5150.

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