News Article Details

Tossing for a cause

Jacksonville Journal-Courier - 4/10/2017

April 09--Toss for Autism coordinator Michelle Hinds-Freed said the event makes a world of difference in the lives of special needs children.

On Saturday, 32 teams participated in the sixth annual Toss for Autism -- a cornhole, or bags, tournament at the American Legion home on West Superior Avenue -- to raise money for the educational needs of autistic students in Jacksonville School District 117.

"Every year, we try to spread the word through social media about Toss for Autism and how important it is to raise awareness about autism," said Jay Boulanger of Springfield, a Jacksonville native who founded Toss for Autism in 2012. "Even though I live and work in Springfield, my heart will always be in Jacksonville.

"This year, we tried to focus on getting higher quality auction items in an effort to draw more people to the event and raise more money," he said. "Together with Capital City Cornhole's support, we have been able to spread the word about the event to draw in more bags tournament teams from all over Illinois."

This was the first time Toss for Autism was held at the American Legion.

"We moved from a Morgan County Fairgrounds building to the American Legion because we wanted to have more of a climate-controlled environment for the attendees," Boulanger said.

Boulanger started Toss for Autism after working as a special needs aide in the Chatham school district.

"After leaving that position in 2012, I really wanted to find some way to stay connected to special needs students," he said. "So that's why I started Toss for Autism. And without the support from Jacksonville-area businesses and residents, the event wouldn't be what it is today."

Proceeds from Toss for Autism went to the Jacksonville Public Schools Foundation.

Hinds-Freed said this year's proceeds will specifically be used to purchase more iPads and to upgrade the technology in iPads currently being used in special needs classrooms in School District 117.

"We will also use bags tournament proceeds to pay for additional training for one-on-one aides that are assigned to special needs children within the classrooms," she said. "I see this event getting bigger and bigger every year with the help of local businesses and the support of the community. Without the people's participation in Saturday's event, we wouldn't be able to provide what the special needs students need in their classrooms."

Helping children with autism is personal for Hinds-Freed.

"Being the mother of an autistic child, this event is very important to me," she said. "The money raised in the past helped purchase an iPad and software for my son, Landon. My son's everyday skills have improved because of the educational tools and the training for the teachers that we have provided to help him and other special needs children in the community. The Toss for Autism is very near and dear to me, and I want everyone who has participated to know that I appreciate all the help and support they have given."

Greg Olson can be reached at 217-245-6121, ext. 1224, or on Twitter @JCNews_Greg.

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