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Hundreds turn out for Autism Walk at college

Cumberland Times-News - 4/9/2017

April 09--CUMBERLAND -- The 15th annual Cumberland Tri-State Autism Walk at Allegany College of Maryland drew about 1,500 participants and raised almost $8,000 as of Saturday afternoon.

Marcy Hardinger, director and founder of the walk, started the event for her 20-year-old daughther Hannah Hardinger, who was diagnosed with severe autism.

"She is the joy of my life," said Hardinger. "She was given very little hope to survive."

Hannah was born without hip sockets. The Hardingers were told she would be bedridden for life.

"We fought hard. For five years we had reconstructive surgeries -- hundreds from the hips down," said Hardinger.

Hardinger's goal was for Hannah to be able to participate in the walk and last year she was able to do so. She also took her first indpendent step shortly before Christmas.

"I fought and that's what I can tell families -- don't give up, don't listen when doctors say there is nothing we can do," said Hardinger. "Our lives are a miracle. God has made me so strong and I stay strong for her."

Proceeds from the walk go toward the autism program of The Jefferson School at Finan Center -- Sheppard Pratt Health System and for autism training.

The Jefferson School is a 12-month general and special education program that provides "compassionate, nurturing learning environments for children with special needs to achieve their academic, social and emotional goals."

The walk not only raises awareness of autism, but also unites residents and offers support to those dealing with autism.

"It's just so special to me to watch this community come together," said Hardinger. "It brings everyone together; where we don't feel we belong other places because of how difficult our children are," said Hardinger. "We know we can come here and we are accepted."

Last year, the walk raised close to $30,000.

Autism affects one in every 68 children born in the United States. It is estimated that more than 3 million individuals in the U.S. are affected by autism and tens of millions are affected with the condition worldwide.

The kids who benefit from the walk are also appreciative and understand that the walk is for them, said Hardinger.

"These kids that have autism run up and hug me and say thank you, Mrs. Marcy, for having our walk. They get so excited to be here," said Hardinger. "They know they are welcome, they know they are wanted. We are one big happy family."

Hardinger is strictly a volunteer.

"I don't want to be paid. I'm paid by rewards -- I'm paid because my Hannah knows I'm doing all I can to help her," she said.

A committee comprised of 19 people make the walk possible.

"They are absolutely amazing," said Hardinger of the group.

Bethany Troutman, a member, participates in the walk for her sister, Hannah.

"It's (participating in the walk) a good way even if you can't raise money to still come out and find other families in the community that have autism," said Troutman of Bedford, Pennsylvania. "There are a lot of good resources on walk day; you can find out about different programs in the area."

The Jefferson School will hold a community day May 13 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Daydream Farms in Fort Ashby, West Virginia. There will be horses available. The event is free and open to the public and any money raised will go toward the school and autism training.

Money is being raised for the school and the training program until Dec. 31

Anyone wishing to donate may do so by contacting Hardinger at 301-697-2543, marcy@CumberlandAutismWalk.com or by visiting the website at CumberlandAutismWalk.kintera.org/.

Follow staff writer Elaine Blaisdell on Twitter @eblaisdell.

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(c)2017 the Cumberland Times News (Cumberland, Md.)

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