Woman, son raising money for autism walk

Posted by Step Up for Autism - September 25, 2017 - News - No Comments

When her son Christopher was younger, Jamestown resident Amanda Martinelli and her family benefited from supports they received through The Resource Center. Now Amanda and Christopher want to give back to TRC – and help other people in the process – by collecting donations, one nickel at a time.

Since early summer, Amanda and Christopher have been gathering returnable beverage containers, redeeming them for the 5-cent deposit (actually 6 cents, but more about that later) and placing the money in a bank account. They plan to continue collecting cans and bottles through the end of this month. Christopher then will turn over the money during opening ceremonies at the eighth annual Step Up for Autism celebration, which takes place September 30 at The Resource Center’s administrative offices on Dunham Avenue in Celoron.

What started as a relatively small initiative has blossomed into a growing community effort. As Amanda tells it, Christopher recently began collecting redeemable beverage containers, and turning them in for the deposit. Christopher used the money to buy fidget spinners. Deciding that Christopher had bought enough of the toys and that the money could be used for a higher purpose, Amanda suggested that he donate the money he collects to the Step Up for Autism celebration.

“Christopher thought it was a great idea,” Amanda said.

Amanda, who works on the cleaning crew at the Holiday Inn Express in Jamestown, started collecting containers that guests had left in their rooms after checking out. Her co-workers quickly got on board with Amanda’s undertaking and began bringing her the cans and bottles they came across while cleaning rooms. Amanda’s supervisor has been favorably impressed by Amanda’s commitment to the project and has encouraged her and the rest of the staff to contribute.

Amanda Martinelli and her co-workers pose with some of the beverage containers they have collected.

“This story is great and inspiring and why we support Amanda and Christopher. We are a team here at the Holiday Inn Express. We are inspired, motivated and learn together,” said Julia Nelson, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express. Nelson, who has worked in the local hotel industry for years, has supported projects for other charitable causes and was excited to see the dedication that Amanda has put into this fund-raising project.

“Amanda is very passionate daily for this cause, and it motivates, inspires and teaches the rest of us compassion. We are proud of her and will certainly support the efforts she is making as a mother and a positive co-worker.”

Energized by her success at her work site, Amanda reached out to other local businesses, and several of them have gotten behind this fund-raiser. Significantly, the Bottles and Cans redemption center on East Second Street in Jamestown agreed to give Amanda and Christopher 6 cents per beverage container instead of the usual nickel.

“We’re glad to help out,” said Ryan Troutman, the general manager at Bottles & Cans. “It’s for a good cause.” He also has set out a donation jar so people can contribute additional money to Amanda and Christopher’s fund-raising effort.

Other businesses have agreed to give their bottles and cans to Amanda and Christopher, with some additionally accepting monetary donations. Businesses that are supporting the initiative include Noe Place, Phone Zone and Lena’s, among others.

The cans and bottles have been piling up, and the money has been rolling in. To date, $179 has been deposited in the bank. At 6 cents apiece, that works out to about 3,000 beverage containers that have been turned in by Amanda and Christopher.

Amanda is amazed at how many cans and bottles she and Christopher have redeemed in a relatively short period of time, saying, “I never expected it to go this far.” Persuading business owners to participate has not been difficult once Amanda discusses the positive impact The Resource Center has had on Christopher.

As a young boy, Christopher was diagnosed with several behavioral disorders, as well as traumatic brain injury and autism. A young mother at the time, Amanda didn’t know where to turn for help. She got connected with The Resource Center, which was fitting because as a child, Amanda herself had received early intervention supports from TRC. The first person at The Resource Center to visit Amanda and Christopher at their home was Bruce Jackson, a 33-year TRC employee who also had worked with Amanda when she was young.

Staff at The Resource Center immediately began working with Christopher and Amanda to address Christopher’s disabilities. At that time Amanda was struggling financially, so TRC provided money to buy Christopher new clothes. Christmas presents were supplied through the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots drive, which TRC operates every year.

Amanda said that her family has benefitted from having several dedicated TRC employees who worked with Christopher. In particular, she cited Ressie Hamilton, Tabatha Stenstrom and Jessica Riquer, each of whom has worked with Christopher for multiple years. Amanda said they’ve become like family members, and she admits to sharing secrets with Stenstrom that she never has told anyone else.

Thanks to TRC, Amanda said, Christopher has become independent and made a lot of progress developmentally, emotionally and socially. He’s a dedicated student who enjoys school. And he’s a conscientious boy who likes to do small chores to help a neighbor who is disabled.

“Everyone from The Resource Center who came into Christopher’s life, I would not trade them for the world,” Amanda said. “There were services out there that I didn’t know about that could help him. It’s really a blessing to know that you have that support out there for a disabled child.”

“If it wasn’t for The Resource Center, he would not be where he is today,” she said of 14-year-old Christopher, who is beginning the 10th grade. “Now it’s our turn to help other families, because he’s where he needs to be. I always like to give back, if I can. To give back is wonderful.”

Christopher and Amanda decided that one way they could give back was by supporting the annual Step Up for Autism celebration. Step Up for Autism is an awareness event that raises money for Filling the Gap, Inc. Filling the Gap is a supporting organization to The Resource Center, working with TRC to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Chautauqua County. Money raised through Step Up for Autism supports TRC’s services for youths who are on the autism spectrum.

TRC’s staff who have worked with Christopher are pleased at the progress he’s made and by his efforts to support the step Up for Autism celebration.

“Christopher has grown into a respective teen-ager. His sense of humor is one of his best qualities; you never know what Christopher is going to say or do,” said Riquer. “Thanks, Christopher, for all your support with the autism walk. You rock!”

People wishing to support the fund-raising effort can take their redeemable beverage containers at Bottles and Cans, located at 712 East Second Street, and tell Troutman that they want the money to go to Step Up for Autism.

Christopher Decker and his mother, Amanda Martinelli, pose with Ryan Troutman at Bottles and Cans.

For those who can’t get to Bottles and Cans, Amanda and Christopher are willing to stop by to collect your containers. Call her at 485-1122 to make arrangements. Those planning to have Amanda and Christopher pick up their containers are asked to rinse them remove any residue, because cans and bottles that haven’t been rinsed can create quite a stench.

“Christopher and I took three big bags full of cans to the redemption center, and afterwards the inside of my car smelled like beer,” Amanda said with a slightly annoyed grin. “I don’t even drink beer!”

Amanda doesn’t know how much money they can raise by September 30. But she and Christopher are glad they decided to undertake this project, and she thinks it’s something they’ll continue to do in future years.

“When Christopher first said he wanted to collect cans, I thought, `OK, maybe we’ll raise a little bit of money.’ But it’s been so successful that it’s encouraged me to want to reach out to even more businesses and get more people involved. And when Christopher presents the money at Step Up for Autism, I’m going to be so proud of him.”

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