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High five: a social center for children with autism



Meet Maria Lezhneva, the founder of the High Five Center for Children with mental and speech disorders. Thanks to an incubation program and a USVF grant, her team has been able to scale up their social entrepreneurship and achieve even more positive changes.  Keep reading to learn more about their inspiring story!


How did it all begin?


During her college years, Maria gained valuable experience working in a psycho-correctional center abroad. Now, she's using that knowledge to make a difference in her community. Despite the lack of resources, she took it upon herself to make a difference when she saw the need for facilities to help children with mental disorders in Ukraine. 

"When I remembered Ukraine and my native Chernihiv, I couldn't think of a single center like this for children. It saddened me deeply to see such a critical service lacking in our country," Maria reflects.

After her return to Ukraine, the psychologist began educational work in Chernihiv and Nizhyn. Free lectures on autism and ABA therapy quickly gained popularity, attracting families in search of corrective services. The overwhelming demand for consultations prompted Maria to enlist additional specialists, thus enabling the provision of comprehensive assistance to children.

This was the beginning of High Five, a center that provides rehabilitation services for children with autism and helps them integrate into society:

"We have always been a social enterprise by nature," Maria points out. "We decided to focus on rehabilitation services for children with disabilities. Our mission is to facilitate their adaptation to life and nurture them towards achieving their fullest potential in development.

A turning point


Throughout 2022, new visitors actively joined the center. However, the team lacked support and a clear roadmap for future development. The incubator and mentoring were the answer. Armed with newfound skills ranging from finance to marketing, the specialists at the High Five Center embarked on a transformative journey. Now, center classes are available to all families, regardless of status. New rehabilitation methods were introduced thanks to the grant, the team says:

"Participating in the program and receiving a grant from the USVF was our step to success. We received not only financial support but also valuable insights from a mentor, learned how to run a business and implement effective strategies" .

Now classes at the center are available to any family, regardless of social status. The USVF grant made it possible to introduce new methods of rehabilitation:

“We have achieved a significant milestone by acquiring the 'SOUNDSORY' and 'FORBRAIN' headphones. Our center is the only one in Nizhyn with such equipment and provides these services free of charge."

The children who previously struggled to communicate are now attending school and enjoying social interaction. The fantastic results fill both the center's staff and the children's families with immense pride.


Today, "High Five" is not just a rehabilitation center but also a symbol of support for children with autism and their families. The center's team continues to pursue their dream: to make the lives of children with autism filled with joy and light. The life that every Ukrainian child dreams of!


Do you have an idea for a social enterprise? Good news! In April, we will open enrollment for the #StartUp4Good incubation program for social businesses. Be the first to apply! 


The program is made possible with the financial support of WNISEF in collaboration with SILab Ukraine. The #Collaborate4Impact project, funded by the EU and executed by Impact Europe, will provide funds to support the initiatives of the five winning companies.

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