This guest post is by Elizabeth Montiel and Lindsey Marco, two students who established the Autism Speaks U chapter at the University of California, Irvine. Autism Speaks U is a program designed to support college students in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.
My name is Elizabeth Montiel, I am currently a fourth-year Psychology major with a History double major, and founding President of the Autism Speaks U, UCI Chapter. My Sophomore year I took a psychology class in which one of the topics was autism. When the teacher asked students if they knew what autism was, I was appalled to see only a few hands raised. A few months later I mentioned to my friend Lindsey Marco that I wanted to start a chapter of Autism Speaks U on our campus because there was a serious lack of awareness. From the beginning she was very enthusiastic about starting the club. I remember her telling me, “I don’t know much about autism, but its about time I learn.” Since then we’ve been a dynamic duo working towards the goal of spreading Autism awareness to every corner of our campus.
My name is Lindsey Marco, I am a third-year Psychology major and founding Vice President of the chapter. Trying to start a club on a campus of 200+ clubs can be difficult and definitely disheartening. Students in their college state of mind are more focused on passing classes and preparing for their future. When clubs are tabling on campus it is easier to walk by and pretend to be on your cell phone rather than risk having to talk to someone for five minutes about why you should join their club. I was one of those people a year ago, focusing only on school work and friends. When clubs tried to get my attention I would ignore them as best I could. I never really found a club that I was passionate about or that was worthwhile of my time. But one day in class, Elizabeth approached me about her dream of starting an Autism Speaks U chapter on campus. The passion for the cause was clearly evident in her eyes. I had never met someone that truly focused and dedicated towards something. Needless to say I caught the fever. It is hard not to catch that passion and dedication when you are working with Elizabeth, her personal experiences and zeal to create awareness and change is truly inspiring. Now I find myself the person talking about why you should join our chapter, Autism Speaks U at UCI.
Our chapter is dedicated towards raising autism awareness on our campus and throughout Orange County, offering volunteer opportunities for members in the community so that they can work one on one with children with autism, providing speakers that are involved in the field of autism to educate and inspire, and fundraising for autism research. This year we have huge plans, as a new club last year our autism awareness week in April, Light it Up Blue was a success, but this year we plan on making it even bigger, making it impossible for a student on our campus to miss. Our Light it Up Blue campaign is planned for the first week of April.
It was amazing to see the overwhelming response we had to the “Go Blue for Autism Speaks U” Facebook photo contest, to see our club grow from two or three people to this amazing show of support from over 1,000. This club would be nothing without the support and passion of others on campus and in our community, we are proud to say that this club has a huge heart and passion that is never in short supply.
Our chapter is currently working with Spirit League, a sports organization for children with disabilities. Their organization provides an opportunity for children to play on a sports team just like other children their age at a pace that is attuned to their needs. Members that come back from Spirit League are hooked and cannot wait to return. Currently Spirit League is playing soccer, every Saturday you can see our members running along side children offering encouragement and keeping them involved. Other community service opportunities include the Friday Night Club, Groupo de Autismo Angeles, and we are currently in the process of finding more opportunities that we can get involved with in the community.
At the beginning we had a really hard time with establishing ourselves on our campus and finding the time to make everything happen. We faced many roadblocks like recruiting members, establishing strong community relations, and finding other student leaders that were dedicated to the success of the club. However, through passion and commitment we have been able to rise and now a year later we are stronger than ever. We have a passionate board of 14 people working with us now and as we prepare to attend our second Walk Now for Autism Speaks Orange County its amazing to see the difference that one year can make in our ability to raise a strong group of passionate student leaders.