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Local organizations team up for annual autism awareness walk, fair

SPRINGVILLE — The Kiwanis Club of Springville organized the Autism Awareness 5K and Family Fun Walk four years ago, to benefit autism spectrum disorder programming at the Preschool Learning Center. Last year, the race was renamed, in honor of the late Christine Padasak, a former PLC employee.

This year, the event will be held at the PLC on Aug. 10, starting at 9:30 a.m., with a few new additions, to raise awareness, not only of the PLC and its activities, but of the importance of health and wellness, for everyone.

The event was started to raise money for the PLC in honor of autism awareness, and came about after the Kiwanis was looking for a summer project to support.

Joe Wolniewicz, Kiwanis member and race organizer, explained, “Another [event] we had done had fallen by the wayside, so we wanted something to replace it. An Eagle Scout, Jason Forshee, needed a project, so this was chosen. It was not originally intended as a fundraiser, but to raise awareness of autism and the particular needs of those children.”

This year, the race is also dedicated to the late Sean Auricchio, a former student at the PLC who died suddenly, earlier this year. Although the way in which Sean will be memorialized is still in the works, Kiwanis Club member and organizer Mike Pendl said, “We want to do something special, to remember this special little boy.”

In addition, the Springville Area Chamber of Commerce and Bertrand Chaffee Hospital have teamed up with the Children’s League and the Kiwanis Club to present a community health day, in conjunction with the event.

“By merging our resources, the cross-promotion will provide ample opportunity to bolster attendance and funding,” explained Erika Thurkins, executive director of the SACC.

“The chamber is teaming up with Bertrand Chaffee Hospital, to plug in health-conscious incentives, including personal health screens, all to coincide with the 5K activities. With the collaboration of the Kiwanis Club, the PLC, the chamber and the hospital, it is my sincere hope that this community event will receive a great amount of attention, to benefit the PLC’s autism program and the health of the citizens of Springville.”

That collaboration, some details of which are still in the works, will include body mass index tests, blood pressure screening and more.

“Our goal is to promote health and wellness, among our population, and to prevent chronic disease,” explained Marilyn Werner, development and community relations coordinator for BCH. “We hope to get people into that mindset, by inviting them to this wellness day. Come and get your BMI tested, learn about its impact on your health and wellness and then eat some pancakes,” she added, with a laugh.

The first event saw approximately 100 runners and 100 walkers, a number which has remained more or less consistent, over the years.All proceeds are directed to support the PLC’s operations.

Gerry Guild, a licensed behavioral psychologist at the PLC, said that, although the center has four classrooms for ASD students, out of 12 in total, those students require the most complex services and staff resources.

The center serves approximately 120 students in-house and an additional number with Early Intervention services, outside of the building.

“Part of our organizational mission is to expand that awareness,” Guild said.

Part of that raising awareness is community outreach Guild conducts, in local medical centers and other places where the information might reach parents and teach the importance of early intervention.

“The school offers literature on the importance of early identification and early referral, of the difference it can make if we can get your child the services he or she needs,” Guild explained.

The funds also go to the training that teachers working with ASD students receive, in order to become what he called “skilled behaviorists.

“That training is ongoing and a large part of our budget. It’s either class-based or a group meeting and we also provide off-site training,” Guild noted.

In addition to that training, fundraisers like the memorial run and walk and the recent Night Under the Stars gala help provide the funds needed, to help the center perform its services for the community.

“It’s so important [to raise awareness]. We have three main objectives: to make the program so good that it’s well-known in the community, to add the resources to do what we need to do and to let people know about the school,” Guild continued. “We pull students from 39 school districts in three counties and some of our students come from up to 50 miles away, so there are only a handful of them that come from Springville. Not a lot of individuals in town are aware of us.

“The need has been increasing, generally,” he added. “We’ve tried to use the money for a variety of programs. I go to other departments and ask for their ‘wish lists,’ whether that be therapeutic tools, iPads or tools for administration or our nursing staff.”

Wolniewicz said that the Springville area is fortunate to have the PLC. “It’s unusual for a town our size to have the resources like the PLC. Early intervention, when the brain is at the most formative stage before it’s fully formed, is so important. We’re really fortunate to have that resource.”

He noted that the Kiwanis Club decided on a run and walk, with associated pancake breakfast and kids’ activities, in order to include as many participants as possible, as well as to cultivate a family atmosphere.

“When we started, people said, ‘No beer, no race,’” he said. “We said, ‘Well, if beer is a pre-requisite for a successful race, hopefully we can overcome that with quality pancakes!’”

Christine Lewis, executive director of the Children’s League, encouraged families with both young and adult children to get involved.

“Our families [that partake of our services] do a variety, in terms of involvement,” she said.

“It’s a fun walk, for families with young children, to get involved at that level. Those with older children or adults might get a team together and run. It’s fun to see people stick around and take advantage of it all.”

Most of the event’s revenue comes from the walk, since walkers make a voluntary donation, to participate.

“There’s a lot of latent need because [having a child on the autism spectrum] is a difficult situation. It’s a long-term process. A lot of grandparents, aunts and uncles wish they could do something to help and this is a way to do that. It allows people to contribute to the school in a really meaningful way,” Pendl said. “When people come to this event, it increases people’s positive feelings, toward the school.”

Pendl said his goal for the event is to “Tap into the potential in the community.

We in Kiwanis have been asking local businesses for support right along, but we ... would love to have businesses encourage their employees to form a team and get behind the school,” he said. “We’d like to move in that direction, rather than just getting financial support. We want people to learn about the school and see the opportunities they offer, firsthand.”

Pendl said that his own family, which has a son on the autism spectrum, is the “greatest example of not knowing what we had until we had Charlie. Most people don’t know, because you wouldn’t go looking for it, if you didn’t need those services.”

Thurkins said that she could speak to the importance of the PLC, in the community.

“The Kiwanis Club and Gerry Guild of the PLC insisted on giving me a tour, to show me the importance of the school and its funding, which was quickly evident,” she said. “I am so touched by the compassionate and professional services provided by the PLC, that I am resolved to do whatever is within my power to help.”

The Christine Padasak Memorial Autism Awareness 5K and Fun Walk will take place on Aug. 10, with the race’s starting at 9:30 a.m. and the walk’s beginning shortly thereafter. A pancake breakfast and activities will follow.

For registration and more information, visit preschoollearningcenter.org or www.plc5k.kintera.org.

More information will appear in a future issue of the Journal.
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