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Autism Awarness York Harbor Inn Lights It Up Blue

Portsmouth Herald - 3/29/2017

YORK — The York Harbor Inn will Light It Up Blue on April 5 in honor of autism awareness.

Light It Up Blue is a global initiative that kicks-off Autism Awareness Month and helps raise awareness of autism and those it affects. For the fourth year in a row, the York Harbor Inn will offer a DJ, dancing, food, a photo booth, raffle giveaways, and a silent auction, from 5 to 8 p.m. in both the Yorkshire Ballroom and Ocean View Dining Room.

Over the past three years the event has raised more than $30,000 that was distributed locally to various autism charities, supporting children and families in Maine, said Greg Silva, banquet manager at the York Harbor Inn, who spearheads the event.

“We just wanted to do something to give back,” said Silva, whose six-year-old son was diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half. “It’s a nice event to raise awareness, but also truly, it’s turned into a night for families who have children with autism to go somewhere where they are with other families that are going through the same thing. You can feel that energy. It’s something you can’t buy.”

Seventy-five percent of the proceeds from this year’s event will benefit Waban’s Fraser-Ford Child Development Center which is building an autism therapy wing. The remaining 25 percent will go to Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, a program that provides autism service dogs.

The Fraser-Ford Child Development Center provides speech, physical and occupational therapy for children with various forms and degrees of developmental disabilities. At 9,000 square feet, the center is currently operating at full capacity. The new wing will provide an additional 7,000 square feet and will offer four new classrooms, a large multi-purpose space, and consulting areas for therapists and specialists. These new classes will allow for autism-based, specialized programming for children in pre-school but also will have the potential of serving those in kindergarten and the first grade.

Sarah Gibson, director of client services for Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, said the organization trains service dogs for a number of disabilities, including diabetes, autism, seizure response, and post traumatic stress disorder. In its eight years, the organization, based in Madison, West Virginia, has placed nearly 600 service dogs across the United States, and there are currently 400 clients fundraising to receive a dog. The dogs are customized to an individual, Gibson said, and undergo specific training.

An autism service dog can help with redirection away from repetitive behavior, better sleeping patterns, focused engagement and more, Gibson said.

“These dogs really bond with their person,” Gibson said.

She said it costs the organization $50,000 to train one dog and families are asked to pledge half of that.

For the Light It Up Blue event, there is a suggested donation of $10 per person or $25 per family.

Silva said local companies have donated the raffle and silent auction items, which include gift cards to restaurants, overnight stay packages and Red Sox and Patriots tickets. Attendees will also enjoy spending time on the dance floor with Clark Sillery from Fred Pappalardo DJs, the York Harbor Inn will provide a cash bar and refreshments, as well as food, Kate’s Bakery in Kittery will serve up dessert, and there will be face painting from Imagination Faces by Brenda Kiberd, the Maine to Boston Photo Booth, and more.

“Places are so generous,” Silva said. “It makes the experience a little more wonderful for people.”

To learn more about Waban’s capital campaign, visit For more about Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, visit

For updates on the upcoming event, check out the York Harbor Inn Lights It Up Blue Facebook page.


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