This guest post is by Caroline McCloskey, a sophomore at UC Berkeley. She is the president and founder of her school’s Autism Speaks U chapter and is a true ambassador for our cause! Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
Helping those with autism has always held a place in my heart. My older brother Joey was diagnosed with autism at a very young age, and has always been my big “little brother.” Joey has a considerably severe case of autism and is often misunderstood because he has difficulty communicating with others. He lives in the world of a six-year old and still watches Disney movies (his favorite being Peter Pan), Sesame Street and Winnie the Pooh. One of the truly amazing things about my brother is his ability to complete a 500-piece puzzle in twenty minutes – something I would never be able to do. He will never fail to impress me with his unique gift and now that I’ve gone to college and live 6000 miles away from home, I miss him dearly.
Coming to the University of California, Berkeley was by far the best decision I have ever made. As soon as I got here I knew that I wanted to get involved on campus, so I looked into various student organizations and tried to find one that promoted autism awareness or raised money for scientific research. No such club or organization existed. I thought to myself: of all the hundreds of student organizations that Berkeley has to offer, how is it that not a single one addresses the problem of autism, something that affects 1 in 110 people?
Consequently, some friends and I took the initiative and our chapter of Autism Speaks U at Berkeley was officially founded on March 9th2011. Now we have over 30 active members and have begun to establish a firm presence on campus as of this academic year. The UC Berkeley community has been very supportive of our efforts and during Autism Awareness Month this year we held an awareness campaign and small-scale fundraiser in the Unit 2 Residence Halls. Our biggest achievement so far has been lighting up the Campanile blue on Autism Awareness Day, which we hope to do again in April 2012.
Right now we are in the process of planning a benefit concert to be held on November 19, of this year. We are also trying to establish a mentoring program with the Berkeley Unified School District, where members of our chapter would volunteer with children and young adults on the spectrum. Furthermore, we are in the early phases of planning a large-scale walk event on UC Berkeley’s campus, which will be held on April 72012, during Autism Awareness Month.
This year we have a very strong team of officers who are all contributing incredible amounts of time and effort to our cause. It means so much to me that my friends have been so supportive of what I am so passionate about, and I honestly appreciate their help and support more than they will ever know. I know that this year we’re going to go far and it’s all because of them: thank you, guys.