Saturday, May 21, 2016

Autism Awareness Month Wrap Up

Autism Awareness Month was busy for Team CJ!  We kicked off the month with a First Friday Fundraiser at Fero Vineyards & Winery.  There was wine tasting, a basket auction, and live entertainment.  This event raised about $1800 for Geisinger ADMI.  There were several Dine to Donate events at area restaurants including Sweet Frog, Pizza Phi, Perkins in Selinsgrove and Lewisburg, Hoss's, and the Twisted Bull.  We had an Autism Awareness Shop for a Cause event online with thirteen different vendors, including Thirty-One, Origami Owl, Rodan + Fields, Stella & Dot, Perfectly Posh, Beachbody, Rada Cutlery, Pampered Chef, Avon, Norwex, Scentsy, Jamberry, and KEEP Collective who donated a percentage of proceeds to Team CJ.  Team CJ also ran at River Towns Half Marathon raising about $8000!  Whew!!!

Why so busy???  Because supporting area autism organizations like ADMI, Operation Jack, and Team CJ is important.

So What does ADMI Do?
Geisinger Autism & Developmental Medicine Institute (ADMI) is a busy place with experts and specialists in neurodevelopmental pediatrics, genomics, psychology, neuroimaging, speech-language pathology, and applied behavioral analysis.  They serve those with developmental disorders and their families with a strong focus on clinical care and research, but they also provide community outreach. 

April's fundraising events will help support two specific outreach programs.  The first is the Sensory Friendly Film Series.  A little more information about the film series (taken from ADMI's website) below:
"Most film-goers can attest to the sensory assault of many of today’s films -- loud music, vivid special effects, explosions, fast scene changes, and multiple dimensions. Imagine, then, the impact on a child with special needs who may be eager to experience the joy of seeing a movie on the big screen, but is unable to withstand the sensory overload.
As part of ADMI's Community Outreach and Family Support initiative, ADMI and The Campus Theatre are happy to offer children with special developmental needs and their families a chance to experience the joy of seeing a movie on the big screen. The Sensory Friendly Film Series will:
  • Provide a comfortable and accepting environment for those who want to get up, move around or make noise
  • Feature family friendly movies in 2D
  • Begin on-time, with no previews or trailers
  • Lower the volume of music and special effects
  • Provide low-level lighting, instead of total darkness
  • Allow families to bring or purchase snacks"
These movies are free and open to the community.  It's a chance for families like my own go to the movies without the burden of worry.  It's a chance to be ourselves without the fear of sideways glances or full-on stares when our son or daughter stims or has a huge meltdown. Something as ordinary as a movie has great power in this context.  Each movie costs between $1000-$1500 to put on, and they're provided free of charge several times throughout the year.  Team CJ wants to ensure this opportunity continues.

The other project we're targeting are the family lunches during ADMI's specialty clinics.  ADMI offers four specialty clinics dedicated to providing care for families living with specific genetic disorders.  These family lunches turn into informal family support / networking sessions. It's a really special time and the families are so grateful to get to meet other families who are sharing a similar experience.  The cost of these varies depending on the number of patients / families ADMI is seeing that day, but typical cost is about $200 per lunch.  Team CJ will be a part of this as well.

And how about Operation Jack?
The Operation Jack Autism Foundation was started by an autism dad in honor of his autistic son. Below is a little information taken from their website- 
"Our Mission-  To encourage parents, relatives and friends of those struggling with autism to find a positive outlet by leading an active lifestyle that promotes awareness and raises funds for autism-related charities.  
What We Do-  The Operation Jack Autism Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit charity created in 2009 in honor of Jack Felsenfeld, who was born in 2003 and is severely autistic.  Most of the funds we raise come from the nationwide series of Operation Jack events. We also provide an easy-to-use fundraising platform for individual participants trying to raise money for the autism-related charity of their choice.  The foundation has no staff and no office and strives to be as cost-effective as possible. The work needed to make the foundation thrive is done on a volunteer basis. Through January 2015, the foundation and its events have grossed approximately $300,000.  
Let us help you!  We’re always looking for great causes to support. We’ve created races to help organizations all across the country, built training teams to support local autism-related charities, provided individual coaching and fundraising pages to parents looking to support the charity of their choice and made grants to many worthy small charities in need."  

It was because of Operation Jack that Team CJ and CJ's Resolution Challenge ever got started.  They've helped host races or teams in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Oregon, Maine, and Pennsylvania.  These events have helped raise financial support and awareness for autism programs in their local area.   In looking toward the future, Operation Jack will attempt to continue to build teams, host races as fundraisers, promote participation and awareness, and develop a grant program to benefit smaller, deserving autism-related organizations in need.  Team CJ wants to be a part of that.

Can You Tell Me a Little More About Team CJ?

I'd love to!  You already know that we are a group of runners with the desire to run for a greater purpose, more specifically to support those affected by autism.  We first ran in May 2014 when our brand new group took on River Towns Half & Full Marathon to raise money and awareness for autism. Each runner made a commitment to raise at least $100. The money they raised covered their race registration and Team CJ shirt with remaining proceeds donated to Geisinger Autism & Developmental Medicine Institute and the Operation Jack Autism Foundation. That year we raised over $7500!

In 2015 we teamed up twice, first in May to run River Towns Half & Full Marathon and then in October to run the Runner's World Half & Festival. That year we raised another $11,700 for ADMI, Operation Jack, and Camp Emerge!

This year River Towns was our fourth time running together, but Team CJ is an organization about to embark on a big journey.  Before I tell you about that though, I need to tell you a little bit more about the beginning of all of this.  

I'm a mom to two beautiful children.  They bring joy to my life that I just can't describe.  If you're a parent though, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.  My son is autistic.  We got his diagnosis on his fourth birthday in 2013.  However, he was 18 months old when I first expressed concerns to his doctor. That means it took 30 months to get a diagnosis despite actively looking for answers.

I've said before that this autism journey has changed me, and I would never change that, but I would certainly make the journey easier if I could.  

Perhaps at another time I'll tell you more about my son.  For now, just know that he is an amazing little boy who has already overcome many obstacles and whose progress gives me tremendous hope for his future.  As he grows, he shines a spotlight on the things that we (as a community) need for kids like him and for families like my own.  First it was a better way to be seen by the right type of doctor.  Then it was having the right support in school.  Now its getting appropriate therapy by specially trained professionals.  In the future it may be adaptations to participate in extracurricular activities, in learning how to drive, or in job training.  This journey could get a little rough. 

So back in 2014, Team CJ and CJ's Resolution Challenge were born.  My hope is that we can continue to raise money to support the area organizations that support our autistic loved ones; and that in the process of raising money we're also raising awareness and talking about autism- what it is, what it isn't, and most of all, what you can do to help.  We talk about awareness and acceptance, but do you really know how to do these things? 

Now to return to Team CJ's big journey.  I want Team CJ to be a regionally well-known non-profit organization for autism.  I think it's important to have an organization like this so when someone has a concern about their autistic loved one, there is a resource easily accessible to them.  Here is the list of things I think will help us get there.  
  • File paperwork to become an official 501c3 charitable organization.  
  • Build a website where all organization information can be easily located.  
  • Reach out to the region to find autism-related programs in need.  
  • Help the community develop much needed programs for adults with autism.  
  • Continue to create and host community events that will do the following: 1). raise funds to support regional autism related programs, 2). create opportunities for families to network and support one another, 3). put autism on everyone's "radar" so to speak, so people can really be aware of autism and learn how to best be supportive.    
I'm proud of the work that has been done so far and truly grateful for the outpouring of support.  But my son is shining a spotlight on where this journey must now go.  I'm ready to embark.  

So Did You See What We Did?!  

The race has come and gone and it was a GREAT day to run!  This was the fourth time Team CJ has run, and every time I have doubts that there will be anyone who wants to join me, but I had nothing to worry about.  We had thirty-five runners on Team CJ.  Unfortunately several were unable to make it to the race Saturday morning for a variety of reasons, but that didn't stop us from making a great showing!  Our purple Team CJ shirts could be spotted all along the race course.  And I love that!

Again, I have been blown away by this group of people.  First of all, for the third year in a row, I didn't know everyone on the team.  I met several for the first time face to face on the morning of the race.  My friends are recruiting their friends, who are recruiting their friends, which is great!  The more we talk about autism and the services available/ needed, the better.  Secondly, the courage, compassion, and enthusiasm displayed by this team is remarkable!  Several had never taken on such a distance and instead of being intimidated, they rose to the challenge.  Our seasoned runners would attempt PR's and our out-of-running-for-a-while runners would push their limits.  All would raise money and awareness for autism.  Collectively our teammates raised over $8000 for Geisinger ADMI and Operation Jack Autism Foundation!

I am so grateful to the people who teamed up with me to form Team CJ.  Thank you Julie, Steven, Jennifer G., Gage, Brenda, Michelle, Krista, Kristin, Glen, Christine, David, Weston, Nikki, Brent, Barbara, Rob, Erica, Lauren, Jenna, Holly, Kristen, Lori, Kristiana, Ellice, Amy P., James, Leslee, Allison, Jordan, Shannon, Norm, Amy R., Jennifer V., and Stephanie.

Thank you to Sam of Operation Jack for inspiring me to try. 

Thank you to Meg, Tom, Brenda, and Christa of ADMI for your kindness and encouragement.

Thank you to my family, especially my husband and my mother, for being patient and supportive through all this craziness and for their unwavering support and hard work. 

Thank you to Bob Stoudt and the River Towns Race Series for your generosity and hospitality.  I'm already looking forward to next year!

Now one final thank you to everyone who ran, donated, or came out to cheer and showed your support.  You have all inspired me and encouraged me.  Your acts of kindness lift me up in a way I can't describe.  You give me hope.  You give me strength.  Thank you.

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