The fact that members of the Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge No. 4 have treated Kassie Stevenson like any other teenager speaks volumes to her mother—particularly when she considers that her child couldn't speak at all until she was 7.
Kassie, 18, has autism and was so "trapped," as her mother describes it, that when she was 2, doctors told her parents she should be institutionalized. Marie and Bill Stevenson would do no such thing and embarked instead on a journey of regular therapies to improve Kassie's speech, life skills and eating habits.
She can't stomach fruits, vegetables or meats and has such sensory issues that, in the past, she couldn't even be near the food. Since she's joined the Mason's service club for young women—the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls—Kassie has added new skills to her repertoire.
Not only has she learned how to make coffee, help provide dinner for homeless residents and assist with serving meals to Masons, but she's also felt free to exhibit her unusual diet. No one at the lodge, the same one once attended by George Washington himself, has batted an eye at her differences.
At a recent dinner for state officials in Caroline County, Kassie put her dinner, a small pizza packaged for a kid's lunchbox, on her plate and ate while others around her enjoyed surf and turf.
"I declined the salad," Kassie interjected, and her mother laughed at the memory.
"Everybody treated her with dignity, and nobody looked at her funny," her mother said, adding she's been places where that wasn't the case. "We've been shunned at other events because of Kassie's eating disorders."
Kassie has blossomed as a Rainbow girl, an organization she joined in 2014 after seeing a family friend installed as the group leader, or "worthy adviser." The friend, Andi Almassy, had chosen autism as one of her platforms and asked Kassie to crown her at the event.
Kassie watched the pomp and ceremony and announced she wanted to do the same. The service club isn't designated as being for special needs, but Andi's mother, Bobbie, was the group's adviser and welcomed Kassie with open arms.
That's why the Stevensons started making regular trips to the Fredericksburg lodge, even though they live in Triangle.
"The Masons have been so good to Kassie," her mother said. "It's hard to get that kind of support for any kid, much less one with special needs."
Kassie has risen through the ranks to become the current worthy adviser and she also was installed this year as one of 23 statewide officers for the Rainbow girls.
Chris Tripp, who's in line to be the lodge leader, said Masons are a brotherhood, and as part of that structure, the "girls are like our own daughters. We treat them like family."
During her term, Kassie has to raise money for good causes, and she's organized a "Charity Comedy Night" on Saturday at the lodge, 803 Princess Anne St. Mark Matusof, a former aerospace engineer who travels throughout the country performing a brand of humor "that is clean without being bland," will offer his stand-up comedy routine.
The event starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $25 per person, cash, at the door.
Proceeds of the comedy night will benefit three charities dear to the Stevensons. One is the Shriners Transportation Fund, which helps pay travel expenses for families whose children are treated at Shriners Hospitals. When Kassie was younger, the Stevensons regularly drove from their offices in Triangle and Manassas, where they're both contractors, to Fredericksburg for therapy and back again.
They like the idea that parents could get some financial help with gas, meals and lodging, as needed.
Kassie also wants to donate to Stafford Junction, a faith-based nonprofit that serves high-need children, youth and families in Stafford. And she wants to give funds to the Rainbow girls themselves, "the group that has given her a voice and the ability to help so many," her mother said.
More information about the event is available by emailing Marie Stevenson at firstname.lastname@example.org.