Features, On-Campus Profiles, Profiles

Through Resources and Education, Alyssa Lego Strives To Build a Better World for Individuals with Autism

Throughout her life, Alyssa Lego said she watched her brother Michael face bullying, ableism, and outright discrimination. Witnessing these hardships, she felt called to help him and other individuals with autism. 

“It kind of forced me to grow up pretty quickly, and being that protective older sister, it was something that I was not okay with,” Lego, MCAS ’25, said.

When Lego was 14 years old, she and Amanda Witkowski founded the Morgan Marie Michael Foundation (MMMF), a non-profit that aims to support individuals with autism by providing resources like sensory toys and iPads. The foundation also runs several programs that educate neurotypical people about autism and seek to foster inclusivity.

Lego said she met Witkowski at an autism skate-a-thon when Witkowski was 18, and the pair discussed how they could make a better world for individuals with autism by joining forces.

“We were kind of doing our own separate things, but we knew that if we combined forces, we could do something really special,” Lego said.

The first event they organized together was a fashion show where they raised money for a local charity—Autism NJ. Witkowski said one of her fondest memories with Lego was a moment after the show when the pair received their first large donation.  

“This woman who we hired as a model came up to us at the end of the event and handed us a check,” Witkowski said. “I think the check was for $5,000 or $10,000, it was some ridiculous amount. It was life-changing, life-altering money. I remember both of our parents started crying, and we just looked at each other shocked.”

The foundation has since launched several new programs, including the iCan iPad Learning Experience Gift Program, which supplies iPads equipped with communication-aiding apps and protective cases to individuals with autism. Lego said once her brother, who is nonverbal, had access to an iPad, it revolutionized the way he communicated and lived. 

“The day the iPad came out, my family were some of the first people in line,” Lego said. “Before the iPad became a thing, my brother would have one item in one hand, one item in another hand and run around the house for hours. He didn’t have an outlet at home that could be regulating for him but also provide him with entertainment and education.”

Beyond its iPad program, the foundation also runs a toy gifting service where donors can purchase sensory toys—which help individuals with autism focus and relax—on the foundation’s Amazon page. These toys are then donated to hospitals and schools. 

In December of 2021, Lego brought her charitable mission to Boston College by partnering with the Campus School, a special education day school located within the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. Through MMMF’s programs, she has supplied Campus School students with iPads and sensory toys. 

But even before this partnership began, Lego felt a connection with the Campus School. When she was deciding what colleges to apply to, she said the Campus School was one of the factors that drew her to BC.

“I was watching an admissions video, and there was a clip of students working with disabled students,” Lego said. “Knowing the importance of service at BC and the different opportunities that there are for that was a priority of mine. I didn’t think the collaboration would happen so soon, in the second semester of my freshman year, but I’m so glad it did.”

Lego has also embraced her passion for service through BC’s PULSE program, where she worked the Samaritans suicide hotline. She said she learned invaluable lessons from this experience—lessons she has since applied to her work with the foundation.

“I think that experience kind of inspired me to think a little bit more about … intersectionality with my philanthropic work,” Lego said. “The PULSE experience has really taught me that everybody has a different story. Having the opportunity to hear from so many different people’s experiences on the helpline, many of which are disabled, really opened my view to something that was outside the scope of just Toms River, New Jersey, which is where I’m from.”

After developing a new perspective on philanthropic work, Lego realized she could teach other neurotypical people how to be better allies to the autistic community, so she launched a program called SafeCommSensory. Through this program, the foundation provides police forces with bags containing sensory items, communication tools, and informational resources. By equipping police forces with these tools, Lego said she hopes to improve interactions between police forces and individuals with autism.

“There’s a lot of police brutality when it comes to interacting with like autistic people,” Lego said. “You know, as an older sister, if my brother is out by himself, God forbid he does have an interaction like that. I want it to be the safest and most positive experience for him.”

Running these programs and the whole foundation as a full-time college student is not an easy feat, Lego said, but she has support from Witkowski while she is at BC.

“My favorite thing about working with the foundation is seeing the direct impact that we are giving,” Witkowski said. “And I guess that would be the same thing about working with Alyssa … when she puts her mind to it, whatever it is, you’re running with it, and that’s the mission. It’s that type of excitement that we want to provide for these individuals who do have different needs than us.”

Lego also credits her mom, Dawn Lego, with helping her launch and maintain the foundation. Because she works for a non-profit fundraising software company, Dawn said she used her knowledge and resources to help her daughter pursue her ideas.   

“I was just lucky that I’m in that non-profit space and that I can bring that to her,” Dawn said. “So I really just gave her some tools and a launching pad.” 

Yet, Dawn said she does not take credit for her daughter’s accomplishments.

“I would say the greatest thing that I did for Alyssa was listen when she had this idea for the MMMF,” Dawn said. “I could have done a lot of things with that but you know, something inside of me told me to just give her a voice when she was that young and take her seriously.”

Even though MMMF has developed a vast range of programs over the past six years, Lego said she still plans to further the foundation’s reach. For adults with autism, support resources like public special education programs are often cut off between the ages of 18 and 21, so families and individuals with autism are left scrambling, she said.

“Something really important to me is developing programming for adults on the autism spectrum,” Lego said. “My brother is 17 and we’re in New Jersey, where the [cutoff] age is 21. He’s getting to that age where one day, he’s going to be home and my parents are gonna have to care for him 24/7. Knowing that responsibility, there’s such a need for meaningful programming for adults with autism.” 

To fill this gap, Lego said she hopes to start a day program where adults with autism can gain a sense of camaraderie with others and access flexible employment opportunities, community outings, and life skills. 

Through expanding the impact of MMMF’s work, Lego said she strives to continue improving the lives of individuals with autism and make the world a more inclusive place. As she sees it, action is needed now.

“We don’t have time for these stereotypes—these harmful stereotypes—to just fade out over time,” Lego said.

January 27, 2023

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