TRC Makes Strides for Autism Awareness
Unlike the cloudy, dismal and dreary day that presided over last year’s inaugural Step Up for Autism walk, this year’s event was met with perfect walking weather, sunny skies and a slight, warm breeze.
More than 120 people laced up their shoes, put their best foot forward and hit the ground running (or should we say walking) to show support for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. The idea for walk was created about two years ago, after several local parents vocalized to TRC the need for social skills training for children in Chautauqua County with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Soon after, a planning committee got together and the rest, as they say, is history.
The event took place September 24, and prior to the start, people lined up to register while others were turned in the pledges they had raised. Each registrant received a T-shirt and a goody bag filled with food coupons and other little mementos. There were also “Step Up” shoulder bags, magnets, soaps, and other assorted items for sale. The committee also ran a T-shirt logo contest this year, and the winner was Mitchell Smith from Sherman.
Other exciting facets of the event included face painting, kids’ games, another visit from Sparky the Fire Dog, a 50/50 raffle, a Chinese auction, and a cake auction, as well as live music featuring local groups Raggedy, Zamira and The Untouchables. Each band was gracious enough to donate its time to play at the event. In addition, WKZA, 106.9 Kiss-FM broadcast live from the event.
Julie McCarthy, a member of The Resource Center’s Board of Directors who also serves on the Step Up Planning Committee, delivered the opening remarks. Julie, whose son Andrew has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism, issued a heartfelt thank-you to all who helped organize the event and to those who came out to walk or just show their support.
“To raise funds that stay locally that will allow our social skills programs to continue and develop on a more in-depth scale, allowing our kids make friends and be `normal’ like everyone else,” said Julie. “What I’m trying to say is that it’s one thing if you want to be isolated from society, but when you don’t, yet you don’t know how to make those friendships, those important social connections, then how can you become a positive part of the community, gain employment in our society or have a future? Finally, just like anyone else, to be accepted and embraced for our quirkiness and understood for how God created us.”
Click here to read Julie’s remarks during the opening ceremonies for Step Up for Autism.
With everyone (including a number if TRC employees and service recipients) assembled and ready to go, the walk and stepped off from the back parking lot of The Resource Center offices on Dunham Avenue, down to Lucille Ball Memorial Park and back to TRC. Following the walk, grill master Bruce Jackson, TRC Service Coordinator, cooked up lots of hot dogs as some of the parents, led by Cindi Dietzen, served huge pans of homemade macaroni salad to go along with the other assorted snacks and drinks, much of which was donated.
Then the action moved outside as Celoron Mayor Jack Keeney and Cable 8 News Anchor/Reporter Mark Goshgarian served as celebrity auctioneers for the cake auction, which this year included other baked goods and homemade crafts. Many of the auction items were donated by a number of businesses and individuals. Others in attendance that day included New York State Senator Catharine Young.
Between the auctions and the walk itself, all funds raised go to TRC Foundation. A portion of the money will go to underfunded services such as the SUCCESS Program, a TRC social skills training program for youths with Autism, established in July 2010.
“This is a much-needed and often requested service that had not been offered in this area before last year. We hope to be able to grow and expand SUCCESS in the future, due to efforts like the Step Up for Autism event,” said Heather Brown, TRC’s Director of Individualized Services, who oversees the SUCCESS Program. “The Step Up for Autism Walk is so important for several reasons. It raises awareness about autism and gives families the opportunity to meet other families who are supporters of this cause.”
Those who helped organize Step Up for Autism were pleased with how the event went.
“I feel that having the walk each year brings information to the community about a disability that is not understood. Knowledge is power! We as parents and staff of TRC have taken on a duty to educating people and the public on this disability,” said Cindi, Step Up committee member and parent of a daughter with autism. “The more information that we can spread and stir throughout the community is great. Fighting for a cause that deeply affects people is always something to fight for. Whether it personally affects you or not, we need to make it an important part of others lives as well.”
“The Step Up for Autism walk means so much to our family, for so many reasons!” said Crystal Peelman, Step Up committee member and parent of a son with autism, who with her husband, Aaron, raised more than $1,500 toward the event. “Mason has been a true inspiration to us and has taught us that the meaning of life is so much more than what we see with the naked eye. First of all, being able to give back to TRC is extremely important to me because of the services they provide for Mason and so many others like him. Our journey with Mason has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, and I know what it is like to be at that point where you feel as if everything is out of your hands.”
“Everyone at The Resource Center is dedicated to help you get your child to their full potential. If we could help one family realize that they aren’t alone, and there are people out there who strive to make life easier for their loved ones, we would feel successful. We are honored to be able to help in any way raise awareness for these children and young adults,” added Crystal.
“TRC Foundation is proud to participate in such a worthwhile event. Knowing that funds raised to help those with autism spectrum disorders is staying local and directly benefiting individuals that we know is extremely important,” said Cindy Phillips, Vice President of Business and Finance for TRC Foundation.
Plans are already in the works for next year’s walk, set for September 22. If you are interested in learning more about the walk, or volunteering for the event, call Tess Kerzner, Children’s Services Coordinator, at 661-1057 or Vicky Bardo, Special Projects and Events Coordinator, at 661-1477.