This guest post is by Andrew Mencinsky, Executive Director of Surfers’ Environmental Alliance.
Each year as I organize and advocate for our SEA Paddle NYC event, I am always asked, “why autism?” From the event’s inception, Surfers’ Environmental Alliance has endeavored to promote coastal preservation and the therapeutic effects surfing has on autistic and special-needs children. It has become quite apparent to SEA that without the protection of our surf breaks and waterways, pollution and industry will continue to negatively impact people’s health and well being, and forever change our marine environment.
Surfing is contingent upon protected shorelines and unpolluted waterways. From this basic principal, the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance mission was born. It may be obvious to most, but I can never state enough that clean water is inherent to the sport of surfing. Unlike relocating a stadium or practicing at a new baseball field, surfers do not have the luxury of creating a new ocean. Once a surf break is eliminated, or polluted water impacts a surfer’s health, the consequences become dire.
To an avid surfer and coastal resident, the importance of advocacy groups like SEA was apparent to me. It wasn’t until I saw the work of Surfers Healing, a SEA Paddle beneficiary, that it all came together for me on a much grander scale. The work of Surfers Healing made me realize surfing is much bigger than the industry and the individuals it encompasses; it can bring immeasurable joy to people’s lives. In this case, I witnessed surfing bringing smiles to parents and children who face the sometimes devastating challenges of autism and other mental conditions; I had the privilege of witnessing what many families were calling “the best day of their life.”
After my exposure to Surfers Healing, another variable was added to SEA’s mission: autism and environmental triggers. My home state, New Jersey, currently has the highest rate of autism in the nation. It is my strong belief that there is something in our environment that is contributing to this ever-increasing condition. For all these reasons, I could think of no better alliance for SEA Paddle NYC than with surfing and autism advocates. The link between the two – ENVIRONMENT – is an issue that is important now more than ever.
This passion and alliance between what seem like two incredibly different worlds was created with the help of Darrick Doerner, co-founder of SEA Paddle NYC. Six years ago, Darrick and I took a jet-ski ride from the Jersey Shore to lower Manhattan; our trip inspired the SEA Paddle concept. The first year was definitely a challenge, but we rallied 40 paddle boarders to take the 28-mile journey around New York City in support of four beneficiaries, one being Autism Speaks. Over the past four years, SEA Paddle NYC has grown in scope thanks to a dedicated group of stand-up paddle boarders, pro athletes, actors, musicians, and environmental advocates. Each year, we garner more support and raise more funds for organizations that are bringing support to special-needs families around the country.
We are very excited to return to Manhattan on August 13 for our fourth-annual SEA Paddle NYC. An estimated 200 participants will converge on New York’s waterways to raise awareness and monetary support for this year’s eight wonderful beneficiaries. We have an impressive fundraising goal of $300,000. With the incredible response we have received so far, I know we will meet this target. This year will also be the first time SEA hosts its popular after-party celebrations in New York immediately following the paddle. The fun will start on the afternoon of the 13th at Water Taxi Beach with our Ultimate Beach Party. We’ll then celebrate in style at our White Water Evening fundraising dinner on the third-floor viewing decks of the South Street Seaport catered by Harbour Lights Restaurant. We have a few spots open in our charity poker tournament, so please join us for a memorable evening at the Seaport!
As usual, SEA has to thank Autism Speaks for their support of our event. Everyone at SEA is looking forward to standing-up to autism on August 13!
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.
A few months ago, the Family Services team received a call from a fourth grade teacher at PS 7 in Brooklyn. Through a “Penny Harvest,” her class had raised $900, $300 of which they decided as a group to donate to Autism Speaks. Last Tuesday, we traveled out to Brooklyn to visit their classroom and accept their generous donation in person.
“This is Nora and Ali from Autism Speaks!” Mrs. Pavane announced to the 100+ students in the auditorium. A little girl in the class walked up to the microphone to announce that she had helped her class choose Autism Speaks because her older brother is on the autism spectrum, and it would mean a lot to her family. We walked up and thanked her very much for thinking of us and sharing information about autism with her class.
“Does anyone know what autism is?” we asked at first. We got little to no response. We didn’t think reciting the DSM-IV criteria would really captivate the fourth grade crowd, so we decided to read the story “Since We’re Friends” so they could understand a bit about the issues faced by children with autism. The book conveyed to our audience that children with autism are just like them; they are fun and wonderful friends who might sometimes need a little bit of support. Much to our surprise, given our recollection of our attention spans at that age, the class seemed fascinated by the story. A boy and his friend with autism were swimming, playing baseball, running around and having fun! The only difference was the few times the boy needed to push his friend a little to make sure he was comfortable and calm. Through reading the story, what may have first sounded to them like a scary disease now came across as something that affects lots of kids. Kids just like them, who they can help, simply by being their friend.
By far the highlight of their morning came next. We decided to play a video filled with pictures and facts to help the class to see a little more about autism. We figured the shorter the video the better for this age group, so we chose a two-minute video often used at Autism Speaks events. We know the kids loved the pictures and were intrigued by the facts displayed, but we could really see their enthusiasm based on the loud claps and high voices coming from the audience while Alicia Keys “No One” played in the background of the video. They were up on their feet singing every word while watching our video. We think Mrs. Pavane learned during our video that all she needed was a little Alicia Keys playing in her math class to really get the group going during multiplication lessons!
At the end of the presentation, we took questions from the group. Hands flew up immediately when Mrs. Pavane asked who would like to ask us something about autism. Is autism contagious? Can you only get it when you’re a little kid? How can I help someone with autism? We were floored by how interested this group of 10-year-olds was in learning more about autism, and how much they wanted to help. We handed out Autism Speaks awareness bracelets, and smiled as the kids walked out wearing their puzzle pieces with pride, armed with a new understanding of autism. One young boy held back from the group as they walked out, and turned to us with a dollar bill: “Here is one dollar for autism.” That, in itself, proved what a wonderful morning it had been. All it took was a simple story and a music video to teach a group of 100 4th graders about autism, and to inspire them to help make a difference in the lives of kids with autism. Kids who are just like them.
This year, celebrate your birthday and raise money for Autism Speaks following these simple steps:
2. Visit the birthday cause page and follow the three simple steps.
3. By asking friends to donate to your “birthday age” (i.e. $30 if you are turning 30) in lieu of gifts, you can easily raise money for Autism Speaks!
Help us promote your birthday wish – send us a tweet @autismspeaks!
Have you raised money in a creative way for Autism Speaks? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and stay tuned for more creative fundraising tips to come!
The Beta Chi sorority designated Autism Speaks as its charity of choice for 2009-2010. Pat Kemp, Autism Speaks EVP of Marketing, Corporate Relations and Development accepted the generous check of $37,000, designated for autism research, at Beta Chi’s National Convention held in Grand Rapids, Michigan on June 12. “Nothing is more important than our children. They are our future. Beta Chi hopes this money helps in some small way to ensure a bright future for children with autism,” said Beta Chi President, Paula Ternet. Pat addressed the attendees and shared some of the recent scientific achievements that Autism Speaks has been at the forefront of, in leading the autism community in moving from hope to discovery. When Pat asked the group to raise their hands if they had an immediate family member with autism, more than half of the room raised their hands. “Autism is everywhere,” Kemp said, “If you don’t know someone with autism today, you soon will.” On behalf of Autism Speaks and families with autism, we thank Beta Chi for their generosity.
The single most important part of my life is my family. They mean everything to me. They are my best friends, devil’s advocates, shoulders to cry on, counselors, advice columnists, competitors and my strongest motivators. One of my most influential family members is my cousin, Luke.
Luke has forever changed my life, and he is only five years old. In 2006, at the age of two, Luke was diagnosed with autism. This hit my family hard. We have never had a family member with a learning disability. My entire family made adjustments to help Luke.
Soon after the diagnosis I decided to take things into my own hands and help Luke in the best way I knew how: learning. I learned what he goes through on a daily basis. I learned what schools, therapies and other educational needs he must have. I learned what it takes to babysit him. I learned what my aunt, uncle and Luke’s older sister have to go through to take care of him properly. I learned all I could about autism, about its symptoms, treatments and theories. I used all this knowledge to start educating others.
Two years ago my cousin Liz and I decided we wanted to impact Luke’s life in a positive way. We knew how much it costs for our aunt and uncle to put Luke into programs that would greatly improve his abilities. We put our minds together and came up with a way to raise money for his education.
We knew a few boutique owners in our area and went to them with a proposal. We asked them if they would designate a day when they would donate a portion of their profits to the Luke Holmes Autism Education Fund. We also sold puzzle piece pins at each of the locations to raise money. And we took donations. We told all of our friends and invited parents from Luke’s schools. The $2,000 we raised went directly to pay for Luke’s education.
The following year we decided to host another fundraiser. We took a different approach. Members of our family are big scrapbookers, and we asked them to gather all the materials and supplies they no longer needed and pool it together to hold a giant scrapbook yard sale. We worked for a week organizing and setting up all of the product we received from family members and friends. Again, we invited all of our friends and parents from Luke’s schools, but we also advertised on Craigslist. This allowed us to expand our customer base to more than just the people we know. Last year we raised $3,000 dollars for Luke.
This year I have taken the challenge on by myself. At my high school, each senior must complete a senior project to graduate. I chose to raise money for Luke for my senior project. Even though I am just starting to plan, I feel I can reach my goal of raising $5,000.
While reading “Hamlet” in AP Composition and Literature, the class discussed what a person would be willing to give his or her life for.
I thought about it long and hard and came up with an answer I truly believe in.
I would give my life for Luke and others with autism.
I feel so strongly about Luke and every other person who has autism, that I would give my life for them to not have to deal with it every day. I am so privileged to be able to live my life without struggling every day. I take for granted that my life is so easy. People with autism struggle with changing their clothes, recognizing their name, reacting to changes in their routine and completing tasks most people find simple.
Because I see what he goes through every day and I know there are so many more people out there like him, I think my life isn’t as important as having millions of people have a better life.
I would do it in a heartbeat.
I love Luke with all my heart and would do anything for him. I will continue to help him in any way I can.
This “In Their Own Words” essay is written by Kate Linman, a high school senior at Piper High School in Kansas City, Kan. This was originally written as a college admissions essay. This April, she hosted a successful walk-a-thon called “Lace Up 4 Luke.”
If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to email@example.com. 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.
This guest post is by Autism Speaks Blog contributor Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a junior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He is currently working at Autism Speaks as a writer.
Sometimes you don’t have the words to express your amazement at a series of events. That was me after witnessing the Autism Speaks 400 on Sunday, May 16. But luckily for the readers, I’ve come back to earth and I’m ready to blog. Enjoy!
Sunday was another great day for driver Kyle Busch. Busch dominated the weekend. Almost winning Friday’s Camping Truck Series race, then winning Saturday‘s Heluva Good 200 Nationwide Series race. On Sunday he completed his great weekend by winning the Sprint Cup Series Autism Speaks 400 Race. What made Kyle so special this weekend was his aggressive, winning attitude. I had the opportunity to watch Kyle accept his trophy in victory lane. That positive, winning mentality was evidenced by the smile on Kyle’s face as he accepted his award. His confident winning manner is well known on the NASCAR circuit and indicates he will continue his winning ways.
Although many had Kyle winning before the race had even started, driver Jimmie Johnson was competed closely with Kyle all day long. However, after 365 laps, Johnson had a disastrous pit stop. He received a passing penalty, which put him a lap down to Busch, ruining his chances to win. This led to Jimmie Johnson finishing in 16th place.
Two of Sunday’s best stories came from driver Jamie McMurray and FOX Sports Senior Executive and Autism Speaks Board Member Artie Kempner. Both of these gentlemen have done amazing work for NASCAR and also for Autism Speaks. Jamie spent several minutes talking to fans along with giving me an interview. Artie Kempner said it best, “Jamie does more than just drive a race car”. Jamie has a passion for helping others and his family has been touched by Autism. When asked about the race, Jamie said “This is a really cool weekend. Awareness is something unique to our sport. To have a race, not named after a bank or a product, it’s something very special. The race is something very special to me because my niece is autistic.” Jamie, during the time with the fans signed several autographs and made a lot of people’s days just like mine; special.
As a final note of the day I would just like to thank Jamie, Artie Kempner and the Alpha Xi Delta Sorority for volunteering at three Autism Speaks booths outside of the race way. The Sorority sold Autism Speaks memorabilia to help in the fight against autism. Finally, I’d like to thank everyone at Autism Speaks, NASCAR, and HERSHEY’S Milk & Milkshakes for such a great weekend.
I’m already looking forward to the race next year and am hoping you enjoyed the blog the past couple of days. As a bonus for our readers, below are several photos from this weekend’s events. Thank you all!
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