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Autism Speaks Co-Founders Honored with 2011 Leadership Award by Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE)

October 18, 2011 2 comments

Autism Speaks Co-founders, Suzanne Wright, Bob Wright, Susan Axelrod, David Axelrod

Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) paid tribute last evening to Autism Speaks Co-founders, Suzanne and Bob Wright, with the 2011 Leadership Award at a gala benefit in New York City.  The Wrights were honored for their ongoing work with autism.  Right now, up to 30% of children with autism also have epilepsy.

CURE Founder and Chair Susan Axelrod and her husband, David Axelrod, reported on CURE’s research progress and urged support for cutting-edge epilepsy research to make a future without epilepsy a reality.

During the event, Bob Wright announced a new partnership with CURE; a high-level autism and epilepsy research conference with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The collaboration between CURE, Autism Speaks, and the NIH will take place in spring 2012, and will be critical in developing joint research priorities to pave the way for breakthroughs and cures.  “Through this partnership with Autism Speaks, CURE believes we will begin to expedite research to benefit both causes,” Axelrod commented.

“We want to extend our deepest gratitude to Susan and the Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy for honoring us,” said Bob Wright.  “There are many commonalities between epilepsy and autism and neither have received the funding they merit based on their high prevalence. We are confident this partnership will help provide answers.”

George Stephanopoulos and Alexandra Wentworth returned as co-hosts of the benefit and special guest Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me” was the featured CURE auctioneer.

Also receiving awards were Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” were honored with the Excellence in Journalism Award for raising awareness of the challenges in finding a cure for epilepsy.  Dr. Shlomo Shinnar, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Centerand the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, received the CURE Leadership in Epilepsy Research Award.

Since its inception in 1998, CURE has funded 116 research grants at 71 institutions across 28 states and 9 countries.  The benefit raised over $700,000 for epilepsy research.

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More than 100 of the nation’s top chefs serve up an evening to remember for Autism Speaks

October 4, 2011 2 comments

Last night was quite a night for Autism Speaks. More than 100 of the nation’s finest chefs put on a culinary extravaganza at the Autism Speaks to Wall Street: 5th Annual Celebrity Chef Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City and was sponsored by Susan and Steven Wise of KRG Children’s Charitable Foundation, Charmz 4 Charity and Puzzlebuilder among other top sponsors. The annual fundraising event – which can easily be described as a foodie paradise – brought together the biggest names in the restaurant world for an amazing evening that raised $1.6 million for Autism Speaks’ research and advocacy initiatives.

The event was emceed by NBC’s “Minute to Win It” host and Food Network personality Guy Fieri, and co-hosted by CBS “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl and Lee Brian Schrager of Southern Wine and Spirits of America. It featured a cocktail reception, auction and the unique experience of four-course tableside cooking by nationally acclaimed chefs such as Bravo’s “Top Chef” lead judge Tom Colicchio (Colicchio & Sons); Franklin Becker (Abe & Arthur’s, Catch and Lexington Brass); Todd English (ÇaVa Brasserie); Masaharu Morimoto (MORIMOTO); Wylie Dufresne (WD-50); Terrance Brennan (Artisanal, Picholine); Food Network’s “Chopped All-Stars” champion Nate Appleman (Chipotle) and “Iron Chef”  winner Katsuya Fukushima (Daikaya Restaurant). Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright served as the evening’s honorary co-chairs and Jennifer and Franklin Becker, Susan and Philip Harris, Alison and Duncan Niederauer, and Suzanne and Shawn Rubin served as the event co-chairs.

Highlights from the event include Guy calling Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr and KRG Chairman Steven Wise onstage for a “Minute to Win It” contest of stacking apples. Wise wowed the crowd by balancing five apples in about three seconds for the victory! Guests were also treated to a special performance by Rex Lewis-Clack, a young pianist and vocalist who is faced with the challenges of blindness and autism, and opera singer Sam McElroy, who has been coaching Rex on his singing. Introduced by his friend Lesley Stahl, Rex captivated everyone in attendance and received numerous standing ovations. It was a truly masterful performance that equaled the efforts of the illustrious chefs who graciously donated their time and talents to Autism Speaks on a wonderful evening.

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President Obama Signs Landmark Combating Autism Act

September 30, 2011 76 comments

We are thrilled to announce that President Obama has signed legislation renewing the landmark Combating Autism Act for another three years, assuring continued federal support for critical autism research, services and treatment. Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright, and Board Member Billy Mann and his wife Gena with son Jasper, today joined the President at the White House for an official ceremony that sends a message of hope to the millions of families and individuals affected by autism.

The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) — sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) in the House of Representatives and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) in the Senate — would not have passed without the tireless efforts of advocates throughout the autism community. Across the nation, countless families and individuals united in a single voice and petitioned Washington to pass this vital legislation. Thanks to their efforts, the message was heard loud and clear: CARA passed unanimously in both the House and Senate despite an uncertain fiscal environment.

The new law continues the federal government’s commitment to autism research, services and treatment at current levels, authorizing $693 million over the next three years. The original act provided nearly $945 million over five years. Since its passage in 2006, significant advances have been made in determining potential causes for autism as well as promising new early intervention behavioral treatments. By signing CARA into law, President Obama has ensured the federal government’s commitment to autism so that crucial research can continue unimpeded for the next three years.

Autism Speaks salutes our lawmakers for listening, and responding, to the 1.5 million families across the nation who live with autism every day. To learn more about CARA, visit www.autismvotes.org/cara. To thank President Obama and your member of Congress and Senators for their support, please visit www.autismvotes.org/ThankPresidentObama.

Watch remarks by Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright below.

2nd Annual Autism Speaks Fall Classic

September 27, 2011 1 comment

On Monday, September 26, 2011, Autism Speaks celebrated its 2nd Annual Autism Speaks Fall Classic at the illustrious Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, NJ.  Joined by Title Sponsor ShopRite and Tournament Sponsor GTS-Welco, we hosted an exciting afternoon golf tournament and evening reception that raised over $268,000 for Autism Speaks’ research and advocacy initiatives! The tournament kicked off with a shotgun start on Baltusrol’s famed lower course and featured several contests, including the US Bancorp Million-Dollar Shootout, prizes distributed for the longest drive and the Bachman Putting Contest where qualifiers could compete to win a $10,000 prize.

The day wrapped up with evening cocktails, and a silent and live auction which offered guests an opportunity to help fund Autism Speaks’ initiatives for adults with autism. Honorary Co-chair and Autism Speaks Co-founder Bob Wright showed a highlight video from the second annual “Light It Up Blue” initiative on World Autism Awareness Day, on April 2.  He also honored longtime Autism Speaks supporter Joe Kernan, host of the CNBC’s popular morning show “Squawk Box.”  Event Co-chair and President of the Bachman Company Scott Carpenter welcomed another honoree, fourth grader Zachary Brooks, a tireless advocate for Autism Speaks whose twin brother, Jack,  is affected by autism.  Carpenter also introduced a special “thank you” video message on behalf of his fellow Co-chairs: his wife Suzie, John and Nico Sumas of ShopRite, Peter and Heather Kapsimalis, and Anne and Dave St. Clair. The video summed up why it’s so important to help raise awareness and funds for Autism Speaks, and expressed gratitude to everyone involved in making the Fall Classic such a special day.

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Autism Speaks Co-Founder, Suzanne Wright to Host LIVE Facebook Chat

September 20, 2011 8 comments

Join us on September 21, 2011 at 1pm EDT for a LIVE Chat with Autism Speaks’ Co-Founder, Suzanne Wright! You can read a special letter written by Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright, grandparents of a child with autism, here

Suzanne and Bob Wright are co-founders of Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Inspired by the challenges facing their grandson, who suffers from autism, they launched the foundation in February 2005.

Suzanne has an extensive history of active involvement in community and philanthropic endeavors, mostly directed toward helping children. She is a Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, the Women of Distinction Award from Palm Beach Atlantic University, the CHILD Magazine Children’s Champions Award, Luella Bennack Volunteer Award, Spirit of Achievement award by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s National Women’s Division and The Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science.

In 2008, Suzanne and Bob were named in Time 100’s Heroes and Pioneers category, for their commitment to global autism advocacy. They have also received the first ever Double Helix Award for Corporate Leadership from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the NYU Child Advocacy Award, the Castle Connolly National Health Leadership Award and the American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. In the past couple of years the Wrights have received honorary doctorate degrees from St. John’s University, St. Joseph’s University and UMass Medical School – they delivered respective commencement addresses at the first two of these schools. The Wrights are the first married couple to be bestowed such an honor in St. John’s history.

The Wrights have three children and five grandchildren.

Click here to read A Grandparent’s Guide to Autism.

Autism Speaks Title Sponsor at the 2011 Hampton Classic Horse Show

September 6, 2011 2 comments

Autism Speaks was proud to be given this year’s Title Sponsor of the Speed Derby competition at the Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton ,N.Y. This is Autism Speaks first year as a title sponsor, thanks to the generosity of The Geier Group, who paid for the sponsorship, many families with autism on Long Island received complimentary tickets to the event.

The Hampton Classic, now celebrating its 36th year, is an internationally renowned tradition featuring world-class hunter, equitation and show-jumping competitions. Throughout the week, Autism Speaks used the event as a platform to call attention to the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, which are currently estimated to affect one in 110 children in the U.S.As one of the top competitions in the country, the Classic draws professional and amateur riders from across the nation. The Horse Show ran from Sunday, August 28 through Sunday, September 4. The Autism Speaks Speed Derby was held before many spectators on Friday, September 2.

“We are extremely grateful for The Geier Group’s generosity in providing this unique opportunity to raise awareness about autism to a new audience,” said Suzanne and Bob Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks. “We also wish to express our gratitude to the Hampton Classic organizers for recognizing the need to spread a message of support for the millions families affected by this public health crisis.

To read more about the background of the classic, click here.

* The Geier Group is a consulting/advisory firm that provides services in marketing, communications and venture capital – its chairman, Philip Geier, serves on Autism Speaks board of directors. 

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Nantucket Walk Now for Autism Speaks Raises over $330,000!

August 21, 2011 1 comment

Suzanne and Bob Wright at the Don Allen Ford Event

On Saturday, August 20, 2011 nearly 1000 people turned out at Jetties Beach for the fifth annual Nantucket Walk Now for Autism Speaks. The walkers raised over $330,000 in support of Autism Speaks’ initiatives.

John Shea, creative director of the Theatre Work Shop of Nantucket and Walk day emcee, welcomed walkers to the fifth annual event. The Walk day festivities kicked off with a wonderful musical performance from the Nantucket Dreamland Foundation Campers and Olivia Esposito who sang songs, and remarks were given by Paul Borneman, a parent and first time Walk participant, and Melissa Murphy, Representative of Nantucket School Committee. Massachusetts State Representative Tim Madden (D-Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket District) addressed the crowd and introduced Rep. William Keating (US Rep 10th Congressional District, Mass.). The Theatre Workshop of Nantucket performed one song from The Fantasticks and encouraged the crowd to attend a free performance for those with disabilities on August 24.

Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright took to the stage, where they spoke about the importance of continued awareness and the crucial Combating Autism Reauthorization Act which will sunset on September 30, 2011 without sufficient support. Over the past week leading up to the Walk, the Wrights have spoken to Plum TV and the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror (Inky) about their organization and their particular role as grandparents of a child with autism. Read the Inky story on grandparents. Read another story on autism research here.

Following the Co-founders’ remarks, Bill Tornovish, NBC’s David Gregory and his wife Beth Wilkinson, along with the Walk Committee joined the Wrights for the Walk ribbon cutting. Other special guests attending included three Autism Speaks board members: Phil Geier, James Broder and Kevin Murray. U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis B. Sussman and Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal.

The Wrights started the Nantucket Walk Now for Autism Speaks back in 2007 to raise awareness in a place they call home for part of the year. Since its inception, the Walk has raised over $1.5 million. This year the whole town stepped up to shine a spotlight on autism when over 80 restaurants and businesses helped Light it Up Blue over the past week. See pictures from the Light It Up Blue Nantucket initiative on Facebook. In addition. Don Allen Ford played host to the Autism Speaks NASCAR car #11 from Joe Gibbs Racing. Bill Tornovish welcomed the hundreds of guests at Friday evening’s fundraiser saying that this was the first annual event in support of Autism Speaks. Guests not only got to see the great puzzle piece covered car, but also checked out nearly 50 antique and amazing cars. Even the Nantucket Choppers showed up! Read a story in the Inky.

The Walk organizers would like to extend heartfelt thanks to the Chairs Suzanne and Bob Wright, and the Co-Chairs: Sydney Fee Barsanti, Stephen and Jill Karp, Maureen Orth and Susan and Bill Vareschi for their dedication to the success of the Nantucket Walk. Special thanks to Diamond Sponsors Suzanne and Bob Wright, The Cranberry Cup Nantucket, Don Allen Auto Service, Inc., Stephen and Jill Karp, Susan and Bill Vareschi and Platinum Sponsors Maureen Orth, Bob and Laura Reynolds, Wendy and Eric Schmidt, Mimi and Barry Sternlicht, and The Inquirer and Mirror.

Fundraising totals are “to-date” – teams are still raising money and the site is still accepting donations at www.walknowforautismspeaks.org/nantucket. For information, please call (646) 843-6675 or email nantucket@autismspeaks.org.

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Nantucket Walk is this Saturday!

August 15, 2011 1 comment

Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright were featured in the most recent issue of the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, known as the Inky. The story, focusing on grandparents of children with autism, talks to the importance of the involvement of grandparents when a child is diagnosed with autism, or even before. Grandparents are often the first ones to notice signs that a child isn’t meeting their developmental milestones.

Suzanne and Bob started the Nantucket Walk Now for Autism Speaks back in 2007 to raise awareness in a town they call home for part of the year. Since its inception, the Walk has raised over $1.5 million. This year the whole town is showing its support with the declaration of Autism Week and over 80 restaurants turned blue this past Saturday. Thousands are expected to turn out on Saturday at Jetties Beach!

Visit the Nantucket Walk Now for Autism Speaks Facebook Page!

Learn more about the Walk here. Read the full story from the Inky here.  Plus, read an Inky story about Friday’s “Cruise Night” for Autism Speaks at Don Allen Ford, where the Autism Speaks NASCAR race car will be on display, and read an Inky story about progress in autism research here.

Autism Speaks Raises Over $1 Million at its Thirteenth Annual Celebrity Golf Challenge at Winged Foot

June 21, 2011 3 comments

On Monday, June 20, Autism Speaks teamed up with television personalities, sports stars, and other local supporters to help raise much needed funds for autism research and services at the Thirteenth Annual Celebrity Golf Challenge. Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright and event Co-chairs Susan and Kevin Murray spearheaded the day-long golf outing at the world- renowned Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Special guests included N.Y. Giants superstar quarterback Eli Manning and linebacker Michael Boley, along with former N.Y. Giants players Howard Cross and Billy Ard; former N.Y. Jets cornerback Bobby Jackson, former NFL player Corey Louchiey, University of Connecticut Hall of Fame Coach Jim Calhoun, “Spin City” and “Mad About You” actor Richard Kind, golf pro Jerome Andrews, NBA Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich, former NBC sports anchor Len Berman, Brothers McMullen star Michael McGlone, and CBS “Early Show” co-host Chris Wragge, all of whom participated Autism Speaks longest running golf event.

The Thirteenth Annual Celebrity Golf Challenge featured foursomes paired with the local celebrities and athletes for an exciting day of golf. The tournament concluded with a dinner reception and an exciting live and silent auction – which highlighted items like tickets to the November premiere of Breaking Dawn and after party (the latest in vampiric mega series Twilight), a trip to top vacation destinations – Belize, Cabo San Lucas, and packages funding Autism Speaks’ family services and translational research initiatives. One lucky guest took home a 2011 Subaru Outback after successfully shooting a hole-in-one!

Through the generous sponsorship of companies like BNY Mellon, MKP Capital Management, Amherst Securities Group, Bill Finneran, BlackRock, Inc., Cantor Fitzgerald, Carlson Capital, L.P., Ellington Management Group, LLC, Jack Schneider, RBS Global Banking & Markets, Suzanne & Bob Wright, Ramsey Frank among others; and through big-hearted individual guest and auction donations, the 2011 event raised over $1 million for autism research, advocacy and family services, exceeding last year by over $100,000.

Autism Speaks wishes to thank Susan and Kevin Murray and all participants who helped make the Thirteenth Annual Celebrity Golf Classic one of our best to date.

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Promises Kept – NJ Congressmen Lead the Way on CARA

June 8, 2011 3 comments

Christine Bakter is currently the Statewide Chapter Advocacy Chair for Autism Speaks in New Jersey, effectively advocating for autism research and services at the federal level, as well as leading the grassroots effort that resulted in New Jersey becoming the 15th state to enact autism insurance reform in 2009.  She previously served as the Chairperson for the Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks and has been an active member of the Central New Jersey community development committee since 2002. Christine has two sons with autism spectrum disorders.

Chris Smith, Suzanne Wright, Bob Wright, Christine Bakter

Since its inception, I have enthusiastically participated in the Autism Speaks advocacy initiative, Autism Votes. My work began with a number of New Jersey federal legislators to garner support for the Combating Autism Act, initially introduced in the Senate in 2005 by former Senator Chris Dodd (CT) and former Senator Rick Santorum (PA).

Armed with talking points for the Combating Autism Act (CAA), New Jersey Autism Speaks advocates entered the offices of newly appointed Senator Robert Menendez in the spring of 2006, unsure of what to expect. The only constant in politics is change – and our delegation was dealing with an unknown. Senator Menendez, the former Congressman of New Jersey’s 13th District, had been appointed in late 2005 to serve out the remainder of outgoing Senator turned Governor-elect Jon Corzine’s term, which was due to expire at the end of the year. We were successful in securing the support for the CAA from both New Jersey Senators and several Congressmen in 2005 right after its introduction, but none of us attending the meeting that day hailed from the 13th district. As such, we weren’t entirely sure where the new Senator stood on autism or how strong his support would be.

We did not need to worry for very long. His agreement to cosponsor the CAA was immediately given along with a promise to do more when the timing proved better.

Senator Menendez issued this statement to our group via staff.

“Senator Menendez understands that autism is a pressing health concern for New Jersey families. As a new appointee, he is “Senator Number 100″ right now there are limits to what he can do until he wins this Senate seat of his own accord in November’s election. But I want to assure you that he intends to make this a signature issue. He understands how important this is to families like yours across our state.”

Thinking back to this statement, made by the healthcare legislative aide who remains on his staff to this day as one of my primary points of contact, makes me smile. I admit that I’m somewhat of a skeptic, so when someone in the political arena keeps a promise, I’m impressed, exited, and encouraged. This could have been some run-of-the-mill campaign promise, and it became obvious rather quickly that it was far from that when I was invited back to participate in a series of roundtable discussions hosted by Senator Menendez in 2008. The purpose of that meeting was to get a better sense of what current federal legislation was missing – to essentially fill in the gaps in the federal response to the autism epidemic, which has hit New Jersey especially hard. The Helping HANDS for Autism Act of 2008 was the legislation resulting from those roundtable discussions. The next year in the summer of 2009, Senator Menendez played a critical role in ensuring that coverage for behavior-based autism therapies was included in the essential benefits package of the hotly contested healthcare reform bill.

So it’s no surprise to me that the leadership baton for the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) has been passed to Senator Menendez to reauthorize this historic legislation and allow the foundation for autism research to continue to grow.

Additionally, my Congressman, Chris Smith, introduced the companion CARA bill in the House of Representatives in conjunction with the Senate version introduced by Senator Menendez. Congressman Smith (R-NJ) continues to be stalwart advocate for the autism community in the House of Representatives, first advocating for individuals with autism as a freshman Congressman in 1982. Along with Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA), Rep. Smith formed the Coalition for Autism Research and Education in 2001, in direct response to a suspected autism cluster in Brick Township that was brought to his attention by Bobbie and Bill Gallagher, constituents with two affected children. When my husband and I first walked into Congressman Smith’s Washington office in 2004, we understood immediately that we were in a unique position – this was a legislator who didn’t need to be educated or swayed with respect to our legislative agenda; he was the primary sponsor of many of the bills on our action lists. Rep. Smith was already acting in response to the concerns of our community and we were in the enviable position of having a meeting to just convey gratitude for his steadfast support. Congressman Smith’s staff impressed me with their detailed knowledge of autism as they asked thoughtful, intelligent questions about our two affected sons and their educational and therapeutic needs. Upon learning that our younger son, Ben, had experienced amazing gains due in large part to his participation in the Autism Speaks-funded “High Risk Infant Siblings Study” at Kennedy Krieger in Baltimore, he immediately asked for more information, bandying about an idea for a piece of legislation to further fund this important early detection research. Ultimately, the goals Congressman Smith wanted to address with his idea for a bill were sufficiently covered in the original Combating Autism Act, which he cosponsored with Congressman Doyle in 2006. Congressman Smith’s long-term commitment to the autism community, spurned directly from the concerns his constituents bring to him, has translated into legislation that has impacted the rest of the nation in a meaningful way. I remain grateful to have a Congressman that not only listens to my concerns, but continually seeks new ways to act on them legislatively.

Thank you, Senator Menendez and Congressman Smith, for your continued service to our loved with autism not only here in New Jersey but across the nation by introducing S. 1094/H.R. 2005 – The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act – in both Houses of Congress. We look forward to a continued partnership to advance not only our understanding of autism through research, but to also provide the desperately needed services that will allow our children to live out the full course of their lives with dignity and purpose.

This legislation must be passed by Congress and signed by President Obama by September 30th, 2011. If you would like to get involved to make sure that happens, please visit www.autismvotes.org/action-cara. Autism Votes makes it easy to participate. Autism Speaks – It’s time for Congress to listen.

Rebecca Shaffer Stelzner, Senator Menendez, and Christine Bakter

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