Bringing awareness to autism
The Standard Times - 3/29/2019
March 29-- Mar. 29--SOMERSET -- Proceeds from the Walk the Walk stepping in the right direction for autism event on April 27 will be used to fund mini grants to purchase items for the classrooms of teachers in Somerset.
But the money is not what the event is all about.
"We feel strongly about acceptance and awareness for people in the community and not just children," said Julie Schoonover, a special education teacher at North Elementary School who is the co-coordinator of the Walk the Walk event along with North Elementary School teacher Jocelyn Albernaz.
The walk will be held on April 27 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Somerset Berkley Regional High School track. It is an open walk with participants being allowed to join in at any time. Walkers will go two miles around the track which is eight laps.
Registration for the walk will start on April 2 which is World Autism Awareness Day. Walkers can register online in advance of the walk or can register at the walk on April 27 starting at 12 p.m. Registration fees are $20, which includes a shirt, and $10 for children 12 years old and under and that fee also includes a shirt. The North Elementary School's website will have information about how to register online. Tee shirts are guaranteed for all entrants who register online by April 17.
Last year, more than 430 walkers attended the first Walk the Walk event at SBRHS.
"I think that speaks to not only how prevalant autism is, but how much our community wants to increase awareness and support," Schoonover said.
When the walk was held last year, it drew participants from farther away than Schoonover thought it would. There were people from Swansea, Fall River and places in Rhode Island. She said one woman said she found a place where she didn't have to feel alone with her child with autism.
"I think kids are becoming more aware of differences between learners and each other and I think parents want to support and be part of the community," Albernaz said.
All proceeds from the race will fund mini grants that directly impact students in Somerset's elementary schools, Somerset Middle School and Somerset Berkley Regional High School.
Albernaz said there are different options, strategies and resources for helping children with autism.
Last year's walk raised $9,497. Schoonover said the proceeds from last year's walk helped 30, plus classrooms in Somerset schools. Ball toys, weighted blankets, trampolines, sound machines, noise blocking head phones and sensory equipment that could be used for the general population of students and adults were purchased with the money raised from the walk. Teachers from preschool through high school grades applied for the mini grants.
"We had hundreds of students who benefitted from this money," Schoonover said.
This year, two $500 scholarships will be awarded from the proceeds of the walk. Students who apply for the scholarships will be asked to write essays about how autism has touched them.
The organizers of the walk also came up with the idea for an essay contest for students in grades kindergarten through grade 12 with a theme that is "We're better together" to promote cohesiveness and a sense of community. Schoonover said they can express that theme through a drawing or essay, depending on their age group. The essays will be judged and winners will be announced at the walk.
The scholarships and essay contest are new features to the walk this year, but the walk will have a lot of free activities, like it did last year. The SPARK play space will be there with activities for children, Home Depot will have a workshop for children and there will be informational booths for adults, including one with the Balanced Learning Center and Gnome Surf which provides modified surfing lessons for children to get them comfortable with the water.
There will also be food trucks from the Mad House Grill and Pink Bean.
A raffle will be held at the walk.
Albernaz said the walk is also a way to provide continued support to families and students.
"It's really just to bring the community together," she said.
North Elementary School Principal Paula Manchester said the walk continues to bring awareness, inclusivity and support to all students.
"We want to continue to break those stigmas and want the families to feel supported and comfortable and not feel alone and know that they have some great teachers," Manchester said.
The sponsors of the walk are the Souza Realty Group of Keller Williams Realty South Watuppa and the North Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization. Organizers are still accepting sponsors for the walk and raffle prizes. Deadline for sponsorship is April 17. Those who are interested can send a message by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the second year in a row, the Souza Realty Group of Keller Williams Realty South Watuppa is the lead sponsor for the walk.
"We're very proud to be part of such a great initiative that Mrs. Schoonover and Mrs. Albernaz have done here in our community," Jamison Souza, team leader of the Souza Realty Group and chief executive officer of Keller Williams Realty South Watuppa, said. "Their program is always in need of extra supplies. We can be a small part of that to help."
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