From Harlingen to the world: Blogger, author featured on NBC’s Today show

HARLINGEN — On International Women’s Day, March 8, Lisa Pena contributed to the occasion on national television, though she has done more over the years.

Pena, 38, was a part of a panel featured on NBC’s Today show during that morning’s broadcast.

Pena is from the Valley and has an autistic daughter named Isla. When her daughter was first diagnosed, Pena said she did not feel there were enough support groups or resources to help understand what her family was going through.

“I felt so isolated, not just in being a special needs mom but that nobody around me had kids with special needs. All of that prompted me to start sharing,” she said.

Pena created a blog called MOCHA diaries, where other mothers share their personal experiences with autism children.

“Those were really impactful and people started to empathize,” Pena said.

Then, she wrote a book called “Waiting for the Lightbulb,” which consists of chapters about Isla’s life.

Soon after, Pena was able to create a community of special needs parents in the Rio Grande Valley and in Texas.

She is a part of Labeled and Loved, a nonprofit organization that advocates for children in the autism spectrum.

Everything Pena has done introduced her into public speaking and motivated her to speak at schools.

“I do a lot of speaking in the schools in the Valley, a lot about compassion, special education, all the reforms that are needed,” she said.

“It is so important to have a mother’s voice in schools,” Pena said.

She was also diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 35, where she once again felt isolated, she said.

Thanks to everything she has been through, Pena became a Today show parenting team contributor. Every month, she writes for their blogs and has been featured before.

But on this particular day, Pena was a part of an on-air panel, and it was her first time featured on the show.

“I think they wanted to celebrate just the fact we survived one of the toughest years as mothers,” she said.

“I think I just checked a lot of boxes. Not only am I a mom to three, but I am a mom to a special education child,” Pena said.

This event consisted of 48 women from across the country placed into three different groups, with 16 in each group. Pena said the women discussed the challenges they faced, what they are still dealing with now and their mental health.

“We focused a lot on solutions and what we do to find joy and how we are coping with stress. To see so many different women with such a variety of backgrounds and still find ways to connect, it is so incredible,” she said.

“We all have commonality,” Pena said.

For her, it is also important to be an advocate for the Valley and the people who come from it.

“I am always ready and proud to represent the Valley. It is so special, and it is not celebrated enough. It is an honor for me,” she said.