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An ongoing commitment Golden Door continues programs to help autism research

Hudson Reporter Publications - 4/15/2017

April is Autism Awareness Month. But for organizers of the Golden Door International Film Festival in Jersey City, every month is a chance to stress the ongoing commitment they’ve made to help shine a light on autism and the need for research.

Founded in 2010 by actor Bill Sorvino and a small group of film buffs in Jersey City to provide a platform for local and other film makers, The Golden Door Film Festival established a philanthropic arm in 2014 dedicated to raising awareness about Autism.

That year, the festival program included an Autism Awareness seminar, films by autistic individuals, and films centered on the subject of Autism that were informative and well received. Their efforts were noted by Autism Speaks, one of their sponsors, calling Golden Door the first and only film festival with an entire segment dedicated to raising awareness about Autism.

In 2015, the festival featured 15 films focusing on the disease, and festival organizers continue to take part in programs that help highlight research and the work to find a cure.

On April 25, members of the festival will take part in an Autism Awareness event at Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School in Jersey City.

Affecting more than first thought

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability. Signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others. It affects different individuals in different ways, and to date, there is no known single cause, although early diagnosis and intervention can help minimize the effects of the disease.

Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills, and sensory sensitivities.

A person on the spectrum might exhibit many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides. The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity.

In a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, autism affects more people than previously thought, as many as 1 in every 68 births in the United States. This is nearly double the figure reported in 2004. Boys tend to be more affected than girls with almost 1 in 54 boys affected.

As to be expected, the lifetime cost for caring for a child with autism is estimated at $2.4 million, and an annual cost nationwide is about $90 billion.

Festival gave scholarships

Earlier this month the festival awarded over $5000 in scholarships to students from schools in Hudson County, and to filmmakers of movies promoting autism awareness.

With several Academy Award winners on its board, the Golden Door Film Festival has been named Best Film Festival in the state by NJ Stage Awards, two years in a row. In addition to supporting independent filmmaking, GDIFF has also established a philanthropic branch to raise awareness about autism through cinema._____________“Golden Door Film Festival was founded upon the premise that every film that is selected for our program and its respective filmmakers should have the opportunity or ‘Golden Door’ to be on equal footing with all others.” – Bill Sorvino____________ This year, scholarships were presented to Caitlin Costello, a student at New Jersey City University; Gabriella Robles from St. Peters University; Hali Merrill, a senior at High Tech High; Lauren McKenzie-Lindo, a senior at Snyder High School Media Arts Program, and Amanda Capra, a filmmaker from Long Island who received the Autism Awareness scholarship.

The Golden Door Film Festival has awarded more than $25,000 in scholarships over the course of the past six years.

A golden opportunity

The festival this year is scheduled for Sept. 24-27. The weekend includes viewing of indie films, parties and industry seminars. It also allows people to network with other film makers and film distributors.

“Golden Door Film Festival was founded upon the premise that every film that is selected for our program and its respective filmmakers should have the opportunity or ‘Golden Door’ to be on equal footing with all others,” Sorvino said in his promotion of the festival.

The name Golden Door Film Festival was derived from the poem by Emma Lazarus which adorns the base of the Statue of Liberty. The final line of that poem reads, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door”.

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Local autism activists honored

Continuing her commitment to autism awareness and empowerment, New Jersey’s first lady, Mary Pat Christie, has recognized Kerry Magro, founder of the non-profit organization KFM Making a Difference, as her second New Jersey Hero of 2017 and 47th Hero overall.

Diagnosed with autism at the age of four, Magro is being honored for his efforts to increase understanding of the disability and for a post-secondary scholarship program he instituted for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“Kerry truly personifies the attributes of a real hero,” said Christie. “After overcoming the challenges of autism, he decided to use his experience to inspire and encourage other students to pursue their dreams and created a college scholarship program specifically for special needs students, including those with ASD. For all of the accomplishments he has achieved to empower others, I’m proud to name Kerry Magro my 47th Hero.”

Magro was an undergraduate student at Seton Hall University and started KFM Making a Difference from his own experiences searching for financial aid for autistic students, and the lack of programs for disabled persons on college campuses. Since starting KFM five years ago, he has distributed 38 scholarships to deserving students.

“For someone who was born and raised in Jersey City, it’s a dream come true to be named a New Jersey Hero,” said Kerry Magro. “Growing up having autism, it’s been a passion of mine to help those with autism and other special needs throughout the world succeed. Thanks to First Lady Mary Pat Christie, we can continue to shine a beautiful light on our community. We are forever grateful.”

If you know someone who is interested in applying for the Spring 2017 Making a Difference for Autism Scholarship, the application deadline is May 1 at midnight. More information about the scholarship can be found at:

For more information about KFM Making a Difference, visit


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