Editor’s note: For those who have a loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a community of support can be a lifeline. For more than 40 years, ASNC Chapters and Support Groups have provided families who face similar challenges an opportunity to encourage one another, share experiences, find information and resources, and have a place where they feel welcomed and understood. These volunteer-led groups also offer education to families, increase autism awareness and understanding, and support and extend ASNC’s mission in their local communities.
Throughout this year, we are highlighting the ways each of our Chapters and Support Groups makes a difference. To find one near you, please click here or contact Marty Kellogg, ASNC State Chapter Coordinator, at 919-865-5088 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
♦ ♦ ♦
On April 26, more than 1,600 people gathered in the little town of Mount Airy for the Surry County Chapter Walk for Autism. The walk, which is in only its third year, raised an incredible $32,000.
The driving force behind this walk is Bridget Soots, one of the leaders of the Autism Society of North Carolina Surry County Chapter. Soots joined the chapter several years ago when her son Caiden, now 9, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her co-leader, Lisa Jeffreys, has also generously given her time and talent to helping families in Surry County for many years.
Soots is a commercial banker who knows many people in the community, and she sent letters to her many business connections back in January, raising more than $13,000 in sponsorships from the start. She and other chapter members also went out into the community at places such as schools to talk about the walk and enlist participants.
“I am very a motivated person,” Soots said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to reach my goal.”
In fact, the chapter surpassed its goal of $30,000. Last year, the members were aiming for $20,000, and when they beat that by $3,000, they decided to aim higher this year.
But the walk is about more than money. The chapter uses it as an opportunity to raise awareness of autism in the local community. People register by purchasing shirts for $15, and Soots says she often sees people wearing the shirts throughout the year, which is a conversation starter.
At the walk, the chapter invites many speakers to help spread awareness, too. DJ Svoboda, an artist with autism, was one of the most popular speakers, with his inspirational style. Other speakers included a local doctor, a representative from Sen. Richard Burr’s office, and an EMS official. Soots said the speakers were an important part of the event for the many families she has met recently whose children were just diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“I just wanted to some of those speakers to be able to say some encouraging words to those families,” said Soots, who has two sons. “And I wanted to be able to get speakers who can relate. Being able to talk to somebody that can relate and that knows what I’m going through, that’s what is so inspiring, and that’s what is so helpful.”
The day is a fun one, too, said Judy Smithmyer, an ANSC Regional Chapters Coordinator. “Mount Airy is a community of people who truly care about each other,” Smithmyer said. “Being at the walk was very moving, like being at a homecoming event. Plus the families are always so thankful for anything we do for them.”
Now that the chapter has raised its money, it will be able to do a lot more for individuals with autism and their families in Surry County. Last year, the chapter gave $6,000 to area schools after surveying families about their needs. Parents answered that they wanted better communication with the schools and more education about autism for teachers. Since then, the chapter has provided group workshops for teachers, and grants to send them to ASNC’s annual conference, and one-on-one training with Leica Anzaldo, ASNC Training Manager.
“The mainstream teachers need the most training because they are not sent to TEACCH or some of the other resources like EC teachers,” Soots said. Helping teachers understand children with autism in the regular classroom benefits all the children, she said, by creating more understanding and cutting down on interruptions.
This year, chapter leaders want to continue those efforts and possibly donate iPads for use in the schools. The chapter will also use proceeds from the walk to pay for two respite workers who provide care during each chapter meeting so parents can attend worry-free. Another goal is to increase the number of books on high-functioning autism in the chapter’s lending library.
The Surry County Chapter meets at 6:30 p.m. the last Thursday each month at the Salvation Army in Mount Airy. For more information, contact Bridget Soots at email@example.com.
Tags: ASNC, Asperger Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autism advocacy, autism awareness, autism chapters, autism north carolina, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Developmental disability