FIGHT 4 AUTISM HOLDS FIRST ANNUAL CONCERT AT BAND SHELL
The Gazette - 9/1/2016
Fight 4 Autism, a non-profit group created by a Hawthorne mother, raised more than $1,400 at a fundraiser held at the borough band shell on Aug. 14.
Johanna Burke is co-founder of Fight 4 Autism with Nutley'sLori Fiordilino. Burke said she created the group to give back directly to families to help pay for anything they need like therapy and special after school care.
Fight 4 Autism is comprised of mothers of autistic children with the goal to raise money and give it back to families in northern New Jersey.
The concert event was organized by Borough Attorney Michael Pasquale, who is head of the band shell committee. This is the inaugural season of the borough's band shell. Burke said there were more than 500 people in attendance.
"We're hoping to do this annually," Burke said. "We received positive feedback on social media and the musicians said they would be up for doing it again next year."
The night included 15 musicians: Terry Maher - Vocals, Tammy Moore - Vocals, Vinny Porcini - Vocals, Mario Gentile - Vocals, John Meola - Vocals, Bella Puluse - Vocals, Anthony Puluse - Drums, Keyboards, Vocals, Pete Tanis- Keyboards, Vocals, George Tobjy - Guitar, Vocals, Jim Clegg - Guitar, Steve Sytsma - Guitar, Mark Slootmaker - Guitar, Rich Tanis - Bass, Bob Lamb - Bass and Rick Merchant - Drums.
Burke said one of the highlights of the night was watching 12-year-old Anthony Puluse, who has autism, play the drums and keyboards and sing with his 10-year-old sister, Bella.
"He was phenomenal and sang about five songs," she said.
Burke especially thanked Mayor Richard Goldberg and the entire council and band shell committee for putting together everything and all the musicians who volunteered their time. She said Terry Main Street Salon was also in attendance and donated blue hair extensions for the event. Rita's Ice also helped with the event.
"All these people came together in the community and volunteered to raise money for Fight 4 Autism to provide help to local families," Burke said.
Burke previously said everything she does is for her 13-year-old son, Aiden. Burke said Aiden has severe autism, is completely non-verbal, non-independently potty trained, requires 24-hour care, has epilepsy, severe apraxia, a severe sensory disorder, severe disgorge syndrome, bipolar depression and OCD.
She said she created the non profit after being a big fundraiser for Autism Speaks. The last 10 years she raised more than $150,000 in that time.
"A lot of the families with autistic children, one person has to stay at home while the other parent works several jobs. They are in financial debt and have no one to help," she explained.
She said her and her husband can't even go out to dinner one night without having someone trained to come in and watch her son that could cost $20 an hour.
"I decided I wanted the money I fundraise to actually go back to Aiden and other families in my situation," she said.
Burke said anyone who fundraises with Fight 4 Autism and has a child or adult with autism, the organization will give back 20 percent of whatever they raise.
Burke is also a mother of her 10-year-old son, Dailey and her husband stays at home with Aiden. She is a licensed attorney in New Jersey. She is a graduate of Seton Hall Law School in Newark and obtained her undergraduate degree in accounting from Montclair State University. She was the Walk Co-Chair for the Northern NJ Autism Speaks Walk for 2014 and has been a member of the Northern NJ Autism Speaks Community Awareness Committee for six years. She was a board trustee for the Hawthorne Board of Education and the chairperson for the Special Education Committee for the board.
Fiordilino grew up in Nutley and is now raising her own family in her hometown. She and her husband, Sal, have three children together, Alec, 8, Ava, 7, and Evan, 4. Their oldest son, Alec, was diagnosed with autism just before his third birthday. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she was a director for a preschool chain. She is a graduate of William Paterson University. Fiordilino has been an active member on the Northern NJ Walk Now for Autism Speaks Committee for five years and was the walk's co-chairperson for 2012-2014.
Anyone looking to donate or participate in any events can find additional information on www.fight4autsigm.org.