On Wednesdays She Wears Pink: Tuning in to Melissa Begley

by Sofia Bianchi, Founder

Ausome is always trying to make our platform a better, more informed place to provide services to the worldwide autism and learning disabilities community, while the challenges that autism places on individuals tend to vary from case to case. That is why every Wednesday, founder of Ausome Sofia Bianchi volunteers at an organization in Middletown, NJ called OASIS tlc to meet and learn more about her #ausome peers. OASIS tlc is an organic farm in Monmouth county which hosts a residency and day internship program for young adults with autism. This not-for-profit organization teaches life skills to adult autistic youth by employing their skills on an in-house organic farm, weekly farmstand, and Wednesday luncheons. Student interns at OASIS engage in sustainable repurposing of items, and selling their fresh products and merchandise to visitors and guests.

I had the pleasure of interviewing 25-year old Melissa Begley of OASIS farms on a Wednesday afternoon in May. Like every Wednesday, Begley was wearing her usual pink vest and New York Yankees baseball cap, her hair in pigtails with pink rubber-bands, seated in her usual spot when I arrived. Every Wednesday, perched upon the right side of the couch in the living room, she listens to her music, with hot pink headphone wires draping from her ears. (She never takes them out.) Her eyes are dreamily searching the air in front of her as she hums cheerfully along to a tune, on Cloud Nine.

“Hello Melissa,” I say smiling, approaching her where she is seated on the couch, and her eyes drift to meet mine. Her face is sunny, and her smile is sweet and subtle. It is as if I am smiling at a flower. She takes several moments to gaze into my eyes, before replying,

“Hello Sofia!” She has the sweet, melodic voice of a Disney character. She pops up off the couch and briefly taps her phone. I cannot tell if she pauses the music or lowers the volume and continues to listen, because she does not take out her earbuds. I find it endearing.

“I am going to interview you today, Liss,” I say. “How does that sound?”

Begley gazes back at me with her dreamy, contemplative eyes, taking a moment to process my proposal. She slowly tilts her head to one side, eyes drifting off as if searching for a rainbow through the window. Then, she abruptly offers me her hand, twirls me around, and poses triumphantly as she finishes.

“That sounds great Sofia!” She exclaims. “I can’t wait for my interview.”

Pleased, I guide Begley to the table where we are set to chat. I am thrilled and eager to interview Begley, as I have come to learn over my time at OASIS that she is one of the sweetest interns to grace the farm. She compliments me on my dress as I start up my laptop, and I thank her. She sways softly side to side in her chair, subtly smiling into the distance, as she patiently waits to get started. Begley’s sparkly, hot pink, manicured fingertips are resting at the ledge of table.

I begin by learning about Begley’s roles as an intern at OASIS farms.

“Well,” she begins, “I do all sorts of things.” She emphasizes her words like a Disney princess.

“Tell me about them,” I say, encouraging her to give me some more detail.

“Well,” she begins again, “I do weaving, sewing, yoga, meditation, weight training, art...and on Fridays, I get a massage!” She exclaims cheerfully. Her sentences are as if read off of a script of cupcake-scented paper.

I ask Begley to tell me a little more about these activities, which ones she enjoys, what these activities entail. She seems to enjoy them all. I am impressed to learn that in weaving class, Begley is learning to create sustainable items such as beach bags, reusable grocery bags, and placemats that are constructed from recycled plastics. Examples of her work are on display in the den, and sold at the OASIS farmstand and Sunday luncheons. All of the benefits go directly to the organization itself, to help support the enrollment of other student interns, and to continue offering the adjunct instruction of the valuable life-skills that the student interns are learning on the farm.

Every other Wednesday morning, for the OASIS tlc by-reservation tea service, Begley takes pride in her roles of putting out the place-settings, handling delicate china tea cups, saucers, and tea pots. Also at the tea service, customers can purchase the beautiful, colorful avant-garde artwork Begley produces from her Thursday art classes which decorate the walls of the stunning Victorian-style dining hall where the services are held.

When asked if she enjoys traveling, Begley starts by telling me all about her exciting trip to Florida last spring, where she enjoyed being under the sun and spending time in nature. On the topic of Florida, Begley begins emphasizing that she is an avid Disney fan, which comes as no surprise given her radiant demeanor and her caricaturesque voice. She briefly tells me about the time many years ago when she visited Disney World with her parents and her (now 27 year-old) brother DJ.

Begley also reveals that in her spare time, she enjoys painting, watching baseball, and playing golf. I am impressed to hear about the physical activities that Begley engages in while at OASIS as well, as I learn that yoga, meditation, and weight training are integral aspects of the OASIS curriculum. On Wednesdays, Begley is normally scheduled to go to weight training class, where she exercises with machines and learns about the correct form and proper safety. I prompt her to tell me about this experience, and she reveals that some of the exercises in her repertoire include leg presses, crunches, and pulldowns.

Begley is very eager to begin telling me about sewing class, where she learns proper technique which is used to create a large variety of useful items. She begins listing off the items, pausing courteously between each to allow me time to jot them down in my notes, “Aprons...glasses cases.... wine-bags...and nice pillows,” Begley concludes. The items that Begley creates are sold at the Wednesday farmstand, where the proceeds are geared towards keeping the program operating like clockwork, in the way that it does.

“We create very nice stuff,” Begley boasts, her smile widening. It is beautiful to witness the pride Begley takes in her work. Her twinkly eyes search the room.

I watch her entire world becoming one with a mystery melody that I cannot hear.

“That’s wonderful, Liss,” I say. “It is so wonderful to see that you are very passionate about the work you do,” I add. I use this as a segway for our next topic. “You know what else you seem very passionate about?”

“What?” Begley asks, returning her gaze to meet mine, tilting her head. The pink wire streaming from her earbuds is slack on one side and taught on the other.

“Your music! How about you tell me about the music you listen to?” I suggest.

“Okay!” Begley exclaims. She throws her hands up with excitement, and then begins running through her list, revealing that the musical genres she normally enjoys listening to include classical, pop, and country. Her eye focus suddenly becomes alert and present, as her senses have been triggered by that which ignites her spirit from the inside out.

With growing momentum, Begley is also eager to tell me how she loves to dance, explaining that she will often take time to herself each day to dance to the endless list of songs on her playlist. She floats up out of her chair cheerfully to demonstrate her moves. Begley begins twirling around the living room, resembling a magnolia petal swirling in the spring breeze, lost in time. I watch as her body falls into sync with the secret rhythm that streams into her mind through those hot pink wires, her entire world becoming one with a mystery melody that I cannot hear. It feels like a metaphor, I think to myself, admiring the way she sways and spins her arms around in a moment that could last for an eternity. As in the case of the effects of any good performance, in a single moment I experience a range of emotions and feelings: first I feel melancholy, then joyous, then at peace. Finally she drifts down to the mahogany chair, returning back to the present, meeting my eyes again.

As in the case of the effects of any good performance, in a single moment I experience a range of emotions and feelings: first I feel melancholy, then joyous, then at peace.

“That was beautiful, Melissa,” I say. Melissa doesn’t respond right away. Instead her eyes slowly drift down to the table, staring at her hot pink fingertips for a brief moment, and then she slides her left hand across the wood to softly take mine.

“Thank you Sofia,” She says. Her words are sincere, and her eyes are fastened on mine. “I am happy to have you as a friend.”

The interview feels complete, capped off with this beautiful finale.

“Well, I believe that’s all I have for you, Liss,” I say, thanking her for allowing me to interview her today. Proudly, Begley grins widely and replies,

“It was my pleasure!”

She stands up and floats away, blowing me a kiss on her way out the door.

Sofia Bianchi is the founder of Ausome and the sister to #Giulio. She volunteers at OASIS tlc, a non-for-profit autism organization in New Jersey providing education and life skills workshops for young adults on the autism spectrum. Sofia believes that the world can benefit tremendously by coming together to cater towards the global autism and learning disabilities community. More on Sofia's mission under the Ausome Mission Statement.

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