One word turned Molly Korte’s world upside down last summer.
Before long, though, a second word inspired a new purpose for life.
Those words were “autism” and “advocacy.”
Molly, a 2003 University of Lynchburg graduate, knew that her son, Jacob, was developing more slowly than her two daughters had. At 18 months old, Jacob wasn’t walking or talking. In June 2016, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
“I took a month where I mourned. This is not the way I foresaw things,” Molly said. “Then I decided to get out of that mourning state. I decided that I wanted to show the world that my son was just like everybody else.”
Molly started Project: Just Like You, a nonprofit that uses social media to give a voice to people with special needs. Every day, she shares photos and stories on Instagram and Facebook to highlight the lives of people who have special need
s that set them apart but enjoy many of the same activities as their peers — dancing, swimming, playing music, dressing in costumes, working, and even parenting.
She hopes to make it clear that disabilities do not define people. “Every life has value,” Molly said. “I wanted a way to show how we are more alike than different.”
Project: Just Like You has about 1,200 followers on Instagram and more than 4,000 likes on Facebook, but it has garnered widespread influence. People around the world have nominated their family members and friends to be featured. Molly has partnered with other groups, including Special Olympics, to spread the word. She even featured Julia, a Sesame Street character who has autism, thanks to an interview with Julia’s puppeteer and creator.
Molly has begun offering her services as a public speaker and has contributed articles to The Mighty, Knowdifferent.net, and the Richmond Moms Blog. Project: Just Like You was highlighted in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Small Business Heroes feature, Richmond Family Magazine, and in the radio show of Gus Lloyd, whose show plays on Sirius XM Radio. The project has received attention with Richmond’s local ABC affiliate twice — once for a “Positively Richmond” segment and once about her successful connection with Sesame Street — and was featured on the NBC station’s RVA Parenting.
Molly’s nonprofit will be featured on local television along with Special Olympics athletes in June. Molly is now collaborating on several other projects to create viral social media to advocate for people with special needs.
After earning her history degree, with a sociology minor, from Lynchburg, Molly taught in Henrico County Schools for several years, and also taught English in Poland with World Teach, a program founded at Harvard University. When she and her husband began having children, Molly decided to devote her time to motherhood at home. Now she is excited to channel her energy into a project that she believes will make life better for her son and many other people.
“There is nothing more wonderful than receiving affirmation from a parent who tells me they had tears in their eyes from their child being featured. They feel validated,” Molly said. “This has caught on so fast because there is a cry from parents in the special needs community who want their child to be seen like anyone else. It is a really exciting time to be part of the special needs community. I love being a part of it. It’s not just me.”
“This is so much bigger than myself,” she said. “Advocacy is a calling.”