Rally for Autism volunteers' behind-the-scenes work helps initiative grow in Huntington
The Herald-Dispatch - 4/8/2017
HUNTINGTON - It takes a lot of people behind the scenes to pull off an event that draws more than 1,000 people to Ritter Park each spring. And it's no different for the annual Ruth Sullivan Rally for Autism, which is scheduled this year for 9 a.m. Saturday, April 29.
Ask event founder/organizer Elaine Harvey who her right hand helper is, and she'll say it's too hard to pick just one, but she did think of two volunteers who put in a lot of effort behind the scenes.
Beth Tappan, the business manager for the West Virginia Autism Training Center, and Alan Albright, the assistant director of finance for the Autism Services Center, help out with organization and registration in ways that may go unnoticed but help facilitate an event that has grown tremendously over the past 15 years.
The event started in 2002 with 220 participants who raised $13,000 gross for the three organizations. Over the years, it has grown exponentially, last year drawing 1,364 participants who raised almost $96,000 gross, more than $43,000 net for the organizations.
Both Tappan's and Albright's organizations are recipients of funds from the rally, along with the Autism Society River Cities, but neither was required to help out as part of their job, and neither of them has a family member affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, which according to the latest statistics now affects one in 68 individuals.
They simply wanted to help the people who do remarkable work for such an important cause.
Albright is a 1997 Marshall University graduate who first got involved in the rally back in 2002.
"The first year they were needing volunteers to help with registering participants for the day of the walk," he said. "I felt that it was a great chance to interact with some of our clients."
Along with furthering awareness of the cause, he wanted to do anything he could that would help his center do what it does, which is helping clients develop daily living and social interaction skills, among many other services.
"I am privileged to work for one of the best autism agencies out there, and I am in awe of what our staff do every single day," said Tappan, a mother of a grown son and an Illinois native who came to Huntington in 1990. "They work hard to train educators and professionals all over the state and to improve the lives of families impacted by ASD, and, frankly, they have set a very high standard in that regard. That inspires me to do whatever I can to help the ASD community, even if it is just in my own small way behind the scenes at the rally."
Tappan got started in 2007, the year that she joined the training center, located on Marshall University's campus. She started by voluntarily snapping a few pictures to share. Her photos were so appreciated that her boss at the time asked her officially to take photos the following year. Since then, she's taken and shared thousands of photos of the event and compiled a number of highlights videos.
"I think the first thing I ever noticed (especially as a photographer) were all these little moments - these little vignettes that you see happening all around you," she said. "The hugs, the laughs, the hand-clasps, the raucous outbursts, the quiet connections. It's hard to explain, but it is obvious this is a community. The teams, the staff, the volunteers - you see people coming together to do something.
"They come together to have fun and celebrate their loved ones. They come together to raise awareness, to raise money, to feel like they can make a change for the better in the world. They come in the rain, in the cold, in the blazing heat. It just doesn't matter. They wouldn't miss it for the world. Sure, some folks come just to participate in a timed run or bike event. But that's OK because whether they know it or not, they get a taste of the autism community, and that will leave its mark on them, so it's all good."
Tappan also serves as a secretary for the rally steering committee, spearheads the T-shirt design process and helps in a number of other ways behind the scenes. She has come to do so much to help the rally that it's become one of the biggest things on her radar for the first four months of every year.
Albright is in charge of registration for the rally, working alongside other volunteers to pre-register and prepare participants for the rally and signing people up on the morning of the rally. His time investment gets pretty intense in the months and weeks leading up to the event - and then on the morning of the rally, it gets a little crazy.
Both Tappan and Albright said there are many others who pitch in as well and have helped the event become more successful each year. It's a wonderful cause to get behind.
Albright said he loves "the day of the rally, and seeing over a thousand people together for the same cause. It's a very cool sight and also very satisfying knowing that I had a small part in helping."
For more information about the Ruth Sullivan Rally for Autism, visit www.rallyforautism.org.
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