Our friends at SheKnows.com, a top women’s lifestyle website, have launched “SheKnows Where the Other Sock Went,” an awareness and fundraising campaign benefitting Autism Speaks. The campaign will kick off at a star-studded celebration on the first Friday of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York City. The centerpiece of the campaign is a couture gown constructed from single socks donated by six-time Grammy Award winner and autism advocate Toni Braxton and designed by Project Runway star Michael Costello. A print campaign featuring the dress will be shot by famed fashion photographer Nigel Barker. The gown and print ad will be unveiled at the Sheknows.com Fashion Week celebration, and the dress will be auctioned off at an event in May, with all proceeds benefitting Autism Speaks.
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This blog post is written by Peter Bell, executive vice president for programs and services for Autism Speaks. He oversees the foundation’s government relations and family services activities and also serves as an advisor to the science division. Peter and his family reside in New Jersey, his oldest son Tyler has autism.
My heart is heavy today. A few hours ago, I learned that one of my favorite disability advocates passed away on Tuesday. His name was Matthew P. Sapolin and he was the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities in New York City. He lost his fight against cancer, a disease he had been battling most of his life. He was only 41. But cancer wasn’t his disability. He was also blind. According to his friends and colleagues, his blindness informed his life, it did not narrow it. As a dad of a young man with autism, I like that description. The New York Times published a wonderful article about Matthew’s life, his accomplishments and the mark he left on the disability community. I would like to dedicate this tribute to the mark he left on me.
I first met Matthew at a disabilities housing conference in 2010 at the Federal Reserve in Washington, DC. We sat next to each other and although we didn’t talk much, I was impressed with his ability to navigate all aspects of his life. I did get to know his service dog quite well. He was kind and gentle just like his owner.
In April of that year, Commissioner Sapolin hosted a special ceremony at City Hall to commemorate Autism Awareness Month. He personally attended the event, which honored several advocates from the autism community, and spent considerable time talking with the attendees. He also delivered a speech that made it clear he understood the many challenges people with autism face. His compassion for others was palpable.
Two months later, I joined Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright for a meeting at City Hall where we talked with the Commissioner about our awareness initiatives and family services programs designed to help people with autism in New York City and beyond. He listened, gave us advice, showed that he cared and importantly offered to help. Exactly the kind of meeting one would like to have with every administrative official!
My fondest memory of Matthew, however, was spending time with him on the South Lawn of the White House in July, 2010. We were there to commemorate the 20thanniversary of the American Disabilities Act (ADA). It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. Temperatures hovered close to 100 degrees, most of us were sweating profusely. We talked about how fitting it was for the occasion. When it came time for President Obama to walk a line to shake hands with the attendees, it was obvious that only a few would be able to personally greet the President. Suddenly, we were in a “disability mosh pit” vying for our moment of fame.
Matthew’s beautiful wife Candra was at his side but they got separated as the President made his way to our section of the line. I was in the front row and about 30 seconds from my chance to meet the President of the United States. But suddenly I decided that it was more important for Matthew to meet the President than me. That day was about him more than it was about me (or my son with a disability who couldn’t be there). So I turned around, gently grabbed Matthew by the shoulders and guided him to the front of the line where he got his 15 seconds to personally talk with President Obama. I wish I knew what they said to each other.
As soon as they were finished, Matthew swung around and had the most incredible look of joy on his face. I can still see that expression now, it will never leave my memory. He didn’t know where I was standing; he shouted my name and when I told him where I was, he gave me a big ol’ hug. Candra handed me a camera (or maybe it was a phone) and asked me to take a picture of them. Shortly thereafter, I managed to get my Blackberry to snap a picture of the President (see attached) as he made his way down the line. It was a surreal moment for all of us and one that will probably last with me forever. And Matthew Sapolin was a part of it.
I haven’t seen or talked with Commissioner Sapolin since. I didn’t know that his cancer had returned. I knew Autism Speaks was working with his office on some autism awareness initiatives but his death came as a complete surprise to all of us. His passing is a huge loss to our community. Not just to Autism Speaks, or the autism and disability community but our community at large. He represented all of us. He showed us how to live courageously as well as compassionately. He stood for those who can’t always stand for themselves. I learned valuable lessons from him and hope to carry these forward as an advocate for the disabled. Thank you for modeling these qualities for us. Rest in peace, Matthew.
NBC Icon Bob Wright in a candid discussion on autism and how the advertising & media business has helped make Autism Speaks a household name
On Friday, October 1 Autism Speaks was featured during Advertising Week, New York City’s preeminent media conference for advertisers. Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks and former Chairman and CEO of NBC Universal and Vice Chair of GE participated in a discussion about autism and advertising. Bob had one of the longest and most successful tenures of any media company chief executive with more than two decades at the helm of one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies leading from 1986 to 2007. He was joined by Andrew Robertson, CEO of BBDO Worldwide and a member of Autism Speaks’ Board of Directors, who moderated the discussion.
In the one hour seminar Bob discussed how he has applied his knowledge from the corporate world to the non-profit sector, and how Autism Speaks has succeeded in making autism a household word. Both he and Andrew shared the story of how they started Autism Speaks award-winning Ad Council public service announcement campaign thanks to the support of BBDO, an elite world renowned advertising agency, and the Ad Council. Since its inception, it’s garnered over $249 million dollars in donated media resulting in much needed awareness for families and has ultimately led to fundraising dollars for the needed research into the cause and treatments for autism.
Over the last five years, under Bob and Suzanne’s leadership, and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, Autism Speaks has emerged as the largest autism science and advocacy organization in the world. And autism has moved to the fore of the public’s consciousness – nationally and globally — in large part due to Autism Speaks’ innovative and highly effective awareness initiatives.
On Tuesday, August 10, 2010, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Commissioner Matthew Sapolin hosted a reception at Gracie Mansion to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At the reception, Mayor Bloomberg presented Autism Speaks with the Frieda Zames Advocacy Award, given to an individual or organization whose tireless efforts for greater accessibility are a fitting tribute to the late Frieda Zames. Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr, who accepted the award on behalf of the organization said, “We are sincerely grateful for Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to advancing the needs, rights and abilities of our community and are very honored to receive the Advocacy Award on behalf of all of the families and individuals we serve in the autism community.”
Also honored at the reception were Bank of America, the American Museum of Natural History, The New York City Independent Living Centers, and the The AbleGamers Foundation.
Manhattan is a competitive landscape for just about everything, from career path to sample sales to SoulCycle spinning classes (yes, I too have frantically refreshed my computer as classes for the coming week are released). When I embarked on fulfilling my New Year’s resolution last year to give back to the community, I found that even philanthropy in Manhattan was yet another application process. As I sifted through applications and interview schedules and tentatively committed to Saturdays from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m in business casual to help empower women in the community, I soon realized I could not maintain such a rigorous schedule and keep my day job. It became quickly apparent that I would never be able to compete with the ladies who lunch (who should really be rebranded as ladies who lunch and volunteer).
After taking a much-needed step back I realized I was approaching the process too scientifically. No one should need approval or admittance to give back to their community. The search should be far more organic. What do I care about? What cause needs attention, especially in my age group? If I barely have time to take my dry cleaning out of the plastic, do I have time to volunteer and where can I make a difference?
These answers are completely personal to the individual, but I soon realized I cared most about helping children – maybe because they cannot help themselves or maybe just because I know I will be a mother one day and have children of my own. As for a topic that lacks attention among my age group (for the record I am twenty-something, that’s all I will divulge), I found autism to be a perfect candidate. There are mothers and fathers who are pioneering for education, awareness, and support for autism today, but this is not a disorder that typically garners awareness among the youth of Manhattan. We are the parents of tomorrow and any disorder that is statistically growing this rapidly should be something we fight for today.
The Autism Speaks to Young Professionals (AS2YP) initiative gave me the perfect opportunity to help change my future. The committee provides different levels of volunteerism to ensure that everyone involved is able to give back whether it is weekly, monthly, or yearly. As a member of AS2YP I learned that some very hip and happening individuals in New York City have been touched by autism. This translates to us hosting our fundraisers at locales you generally cannot get into on a standard Thursday night (without buying a table for the price of a minivan). Or sometimes, events are hosted in a space so completely unique you could find yourself partying on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange – like our first event last year.
All AS2YP events generally end with droves of young professionals being slightly less professional on the dance floor. I expect no less from Round Two at the New York Stock Exchange on August 5. Come join us from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. for cocktails and dancing for this pertinent and fabulous cause. Some dance moves are better than others, but hey, it’s for charity! If the DJ doesn’t stop taking my requests like last year, we will even play a little Britney for you (don’t lie, you love it). Hope to see you all there.
Tickets are available online, starting at $75. Ticket price includes admission, passed appetizers, open bar, dancing and the opportunity to support Autism Speaks while meeting other New York-area young professionals.
NYC celebrity hotspot SL hosted more than 200 young professionals, on the evening of January 7, for the second in the Autism Speaks to Young Professionals (AS2YP) event series, raising over $33,000. The Winter Gala, hosted by event co-chairs Amanda Niederauer and Danny Ryan, offered guests an open bar, delicious appetizers by Abe & Arthur’s chef Franklin Becker and dancing to tunes spun by DJs Caleb Loftus and Nick Russo. The hundreds of guests complemented their fashionable attire, and raised autism awareness, by sporting the Autism Speaks puzzle pin.
The inaugural summer event, held at the Stock Exchange, sold out three days before the event and raised over $40,000. Danielle Yango, who attended both events, commented, “It was so great to be at events where everyone there was inspired by and engaged in the reason for being there – to raise autism awareness and to raise funds for Autism Speaks. Despite twenty-somethings not having a lot of money to spare, the event was filled with people wanting to do and give more. Change and improvement only happen when people take action, and this event is a prime example of people actively participating!”
Another guest, committee member Hallie Elsner remarked, “Despite the frigid temperature in New York City, it was amazing to see how many people made it out to support the first event of the year for AS2YP. It was a great way to kick off 2010!” Caite Kappel, another committee member in attendance, agreed, “It was great to have so many passionate people together in one amazing venue. The event went a long way to promote awareness of the disorder and I was thrilled to hear about all the money that was raised. I can’t wait for the next event!”
The event, described as “fun,” “hip,” and “trendy” by the guests in attendance attracted not only people who have a loved one with autism, but people who wanted to learn more about the disorder. Throughout the evening, a presentation on the television screens reinforced the CDC’s most recent findings that 1 in 110 children has autism.
Joshua Feldman, an active supporter of Autism Speaks and an ASY2P committee member said, “After participating in both Autism Speaks and AS2YP events, I realize the attendees to both are instrumental in the future of autism awareness and research. I think the AS2YP Winter Gala was extremely successful, because while other events may raise more money near-term, this event opened the eyes of tomorrow’s benefactors who can support Autism Speaks and its goals in the future.”
Event co-chair, Amanda Niederauer, hopes to expand the success of the Young Professionals events to other cities across the country. Amanda said, “I am so happy that the event was such a huge success. With the statistics so drastically increased to 1 in 110 children, our work is even more important. I think we have a terrific thing started with the Young Professionals series, and it is such an honor to be involved in spreading awareness to the next generation of parents.”
Become a fan of AS2YP on Facebook at www.facebook.com/as2yp to stay up-to-date with events and check out event photos by Josh Wong. The AS2YP event series will return to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange this August.
Check out coverage and photos from the event: