The Christopher Center at Madison East Center in Mankato is the long-held dream of local educator Tanya Herbst. It is a safe and supportive space for families with children on the autism spectrum.
Named after Herbst’s late brother, the Christopher Center will provide a place where families can access services and classes and connect with other families for play time and support. She is starting with one-on-one consultations and very small groups during the pandemic and will expand once it is safe for more people to gather.
Elysian resident Herbst has worked with young children with autism for many years for multiple school districts as a teacher and early childhood parent educator. She currently works for Mankato Public Schools as an autism specialist with responsibilities including doing autism screening and advising other educators.
The Waseca native said her parents, Ralph and Audrey Keyes, and her older brother, Christopher Keyes, inspired her drive to work with special needs children. Christopher had multiple disabilities and died unexpectedly in his sleep in 1987. He was 17 years old and Herbst was 14.
The Keyes were educators. Her father was assistant superintendent of Waseca Public Schools. Herbst said they were dedicated advocates to giving their son access to a variety of opportunities.
Her family taught her that “kids can do anything when they have support,” she said.
She was drawn to children on the autism spectrum, she said, because she finds fulfillment in helping them “unlock” their unique abilities.
Donations are sought to support the center.
(Source: Free Press of Mankato)