This guest post is by Katie Weeks, a senior at the University of Miami in Ohio studying Speech Pathology and Child Studies/Disability Studies. She started an Autism Speaks U chapter and has done a fantastic job spreading awareness and raising funds on campus and in the Cincinnati area. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
My first exposure to autism was in high school. Before I met Aneta, I knew virtually nothing about the complex disorder. I was asked to help Aneta, my U.S. History classmate, a student with Asperger’s Syndrome. Throughout the year, I battled frustration and confusion in our daily one-on-one sessions. Eventually I practiced patience and gained empathy. Little did I know that this experience would trigger my exploration of and ultimate decision to pursue a career in speech pathology in order to work with those affected by autism.
My involvement with Autism Speaks began fairly recently. Last summer I interned at the Autism Speaks’ Chicagoland Chapter office. I had the unique opportunity to participate in a project which provided valuable free resources to families with newly diagnosed children. During spring semester of 2010 before my internship, I researched student organizations on campus and found nothing related to autism. This spurred my interest to see what it would take to start an Autism Speaks U chapter. I initially met with a group of driven students I knew from various places around campus and formed our executive board. From there we gained official student organization status and were ready to start planning events for the upcoming school year!
The response we got from the student body at our first meeting was amazing! There were over 200 students packed into a room that held 50, all eager to learn what our new organization was about. Needless to say, we moved to a larger auditorium for our bi-monthly meetings. At our chapter meetings we either have a speaker discuss their personal experiences with autism or show a video. Our goals as an organization are to raise funds for Autism Speaks, volunteer within the local autism community and raise awareness among students and faculty on Miami’s camps.
Our first semester on campus was extremely successful! We held several different fundraising events including a bake sale, a holiday pottery-painting event, silly band fundraisers, and a happy hour. So far we have raised almost $1,800 for Autism Speaks. We’ve also reached out to the local community by hosting a “family fun day” at Butterfield Farms, where families affected by autism participated in a corn maze and hay ride! Next semester we are hoping to plan a “Kids Night Out” babysitting event at a local elementary school to give parents a break. We are also looking forward to volunteering at the Cincinnati Center for Autism and Safe Haven Farms, a local community for adults on the spectrum.
Our big event next semester will be our 5k run/walk which will be held on campus on April 17th. We are going to reach out to the Greek community and other campus organizations so that participants can sign up as a team. From there participants will be able to go to our Autism Speaks U event page and individually fundraise from their families and friends. We will be advertising all semester and hope to see a large turnout for our culminating event of the school year! For more information, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are involved with Autism Speaks U on your campus and would like your story to be featured on the Autism Speaks blog, please send it to AutismSpeaksU@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.