SOMERSET — The phoenix is a mythological bird that is often associated with the idea of rebirth or resurrection. This idea springs from the fact that only one phoenix can exist at a time, and as the bird approaches its end, it sets itself aflame and from the ashes would rise a new phoenix to take flight.
Somerset Tours and Travels, owned by Kathleen Scallon, utilizes the image of the phoenix as its logo, an appropriate symbol for how Scallon has also risen from the ashes, both literally and figuratively.
Scallon has been selling travel for over 10 years, but in 2017, the storefront of Somerset Tours and Travels was destroyed in a fire. This did not stop Scallon, though, who is a retired letter carrier, and neither did COVID, as she is back in business, ready to help people take flight like the mythological bird.
Back up and running after the fire
While Scallon acknowledged that taking on travel during the pandemic was a risk, being a travel agent is something that she takes seriously.
“I do not just sell a trip to sell a trip,” Scallon says.
She also wholeheartedly believes that everyone deserves to fly the friendly skies, even those with special needs or with disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.
While the company can assist with special needs travel, specifically offering wheelchair services and oxygen, Scallon was inspired to expand her services after meeting with a family that has a 12-year-old son with autism.
“They didn’t know a good place to go, and I didn’t know either and I didn’t want to guess,” Scallon says. This led her to do more research because the “last thing I want to do is send someone with (ASD-related sound issues) on a cruise ship.”
She was also concerned about the fact that the family was not going to bring their son along on the trip. Scallon could not help but ask herself: “Why can’t he go?”
Scallon started digging. She came across the Certified Autism Travel Professional, or CATP, program hosted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
Scallon admits that going into the program, she had no knowledge about autism and the various aspects of the spectrum, but she wanted to learn as much as she could for the families she hopes to help.
While she finished the program and is currently CATP certified, Scallon says that there is so much more for her to learn because of how complex ASD is.
ASD, which is a development disorder, affects approximately 1 in 54 children, according to the CDC, which has increased from 2000, when approximately 1 in 150 children were diagnosed. Symptoms vary based on where the child falls on the spectrum, which is one of the most important lessons Scallon learned through the certification process. For example, she has learned that some are more sensitive to sound and to texture, but she also learned that there are various resorts that can assist families who may have a child on the spectrum.
According to Scallon, she has learned how inclusive the Beaches Resorts by Sandals are for children with autism. She has also find out that there are resorts that have trained professionals to care for ASD children. “I was really impressed with that. This is not just a babysitter, but people who are trained” to interact with children with autism, Scallon says.
If the children have issues with texture or color, there are chefs that will have conversations with parents to make sure the child has the most comfortable dining experience possible.
When talking about what she learned during the certification process, Scallon declares: “I am proud of that. I can help more people now. Everyone should be able to go on vacation.”
She will have to recertify her CATP every two years, and she is currently working on another certification program, Applied Behavioral Analysis Program Guide for Top Autism Friendly Vacations.
Scallon jokes that she had always wanted to be a philanthropist, but because she did not have the money for that kind of work, she figured this would be a good way to give back.
“I didn’t do this for the money. It is too important to do just for the money because there is too much at stake,” Scallon asserts. “By the Grace of God, so go I.”
And that couple that started this journey? Scallon says that the entire family, including their 12-year-old son, will vacation in Jamaica.