The Autism Speaks U Chapter at the University of Michigan’s co-founders (Maressa Criscito & Alex Lewisohn) interviewed collegiate entrepreneurs and twins, Samantha and Morgan Elias. These 21 year old sisters are the brains behind The Vintage Twin. Samantha, a member of Autism Speaks U at the University of Michigan, and Morgan, who attends New York University, recently hosted a trunk show on August 1 in New York City, donating over $550 to Autism Speaks.
The Vintage Twin, which was founded and self-financed in August 2009 with a trunk show in the their mother’s basement, is now a burgeoning brand; the first to use only recycled materials in creating one-of-a-kind original designs. Recreating vintage clothing, home goods, and accessories, TVT is a retail revolution offering people a style that is all their own.
1. Do you have a personal connection to autism? If so, please explain.
Our eldest sister is a speech pathologist and we have each shadowed her in working with children with autism. More close to home, our first cousin has asperger syndrome and we have watched him grow and overcome the hardships of staying in a specialized mainstream school.
2. Why do you feel it is important to host events for Autism Speaks?
Autism affect MILLIONS of people on varying degrees and the numbers only seem to be growing. Awareness must be raised, but more importantly, funds must be raised to better the quality of life for those who live a lifetime with it, rather than many medicinal fundraisers that are focused on fatal diseases.
3. How did you become involved with the Autism Speaks U program?
My best friends (Maressa & Alex) started it at The University of Michigan!
4. What other events have you hosted for Autism Speaks or other charities in the past?
We have previously donated to Project Kids Worldwide.
5. Why is it important for college students to be educated about autism?
Autism is EVERYWHERE and not going anywhere fast. We need to be aware, able to coexist and assist people in assimilating despite their social challenges.
6. What kind of impact can the fashion world have on spreading autism awareness?
As the brand grows and we continue to have events benefiting Autism Speaks U, our fan bases can combine to not only raise money for the cause, but also to spread awareness within the vast world of fashionistas and fundraisers.
7. What advice do you have for other students who are also interested in becoming entrepreneurs?
START. Whether it’s selling out of your closet or opening a store, start now!
8. What are your future plans for your business? Any specific designers/trends or events your fans should keep an eye out for?
Our website is going to be an awesome destination for affordable unique wears for ALL.
9. What was the biggest challenge that you faced during the creation of your business? How did you overcome it?
The website. We raised enough money to afford creating an in-house studio that will fill our website with hundreds of items daily.
10) Would you be interested in hosting other events with Autism Speaks in the future?
DEFINITELY- namely in Ann Arbor and also online. Last month, supporters were able to save 10% on their purchase with 10% of the proceeds going back to Autism Speaks U.
College students, faculty and alumni can get involved with our college program, Autism Speaks U, by visiting www.AutismSpeaks.org/U. Autism Speaks U works with college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
This guest post is by Maressa Criscito, the Co-President and Co-Founder of the Autism Speaks U Chapter at the University of Michigan. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
Alexandra Lewisohn and I started our Autism Speaks U chapter during the summer of 2009. It was during this time that we began researching student organizations related to autism spectrum disorders at the University of Michigan, and to our surprise, there were none. Due to personal connections with autism, as well as our desire to raise awareness and funds for this cause, we took it upon ourselves to create a successful and active student organization for autism spectrum disorders. After much research, both online and via word-of-mouth, we realized the dedication that Autism Speaks had to raising awareness and funds for autism research, while advocating for the autism community. Their dedication was definitely paralleled to ours. After contacting both the national and local Autism Speaks staff, we began our journey to create a student organization at the University of Michigan in fall of 2009.
Our chapter aims to further the mission of Autism Speaks by engaging the campus community to support this important cause. We strive to create a community that will educate, support, and enhance the lives of those affected by autism. Students join our organization to take part in fundraising events, volunteer opportunities, and/or to just become involved in raising autism awareness around campus and the Ann Arbor community. Previous fundraising activities include bake sales, local bar nights, and a restaurant week that took place in May 2010. Active members also have the option to volunteer with children on the spectrum once a month at the Judson Center, a local community center in the Ann Arbor area. We also promote numerous awareness events such as, “Wear Blue for Autism Awareness Day.” This year, Autism Speaks U at the University of Michigan has grown immensely, now having over 200 members and the support from many others.
On October 23, 2010, we hosted our first basketball tournament and basketball knockout event, raising almost $800 and attracting sponsors from local bars, restaurants and Grublife. All of the food, beverages and prizes were donated! Prizes included DEADMAU5 tickets, gift certificates to high-end restaurants (such as Melange and Zingerman’s), other gift certificates to local restaurants, University of Michigan apparel stores, and Autism Speaks U gear. The basketball tournament involved 4-on-4 half-court basketball games that were played up to 11. It was $10 per person to register for the tournament and each team could have a maximum of 5 players per team. There were a total of 16 teams participating in the basketball tournament. We also had a basketball knockout game where about 20 individuals formed a single file line at the free throw line and shot foul shots. This game continued until 1 winner was left and was $5 per person to play. In order to get support and involvement from the community, we posted flyers around campus, as well as sent e-mails to other student organizations and Greek Life on campus. It was truly a great event that we hope to expand even more so in the following years!
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.