The UMass Amherst Autism Speaks U organization is looking to raise $20,000 this semester for autism research and aid.
A new organization on campus, UMass Amherst Autism Speaks U, was officially recognized by the national non-profit organization Autism Speaks in December. However, the group’s infancy hasn’t stopped it from making some big plans.
During the club’s first meeting of the semester on Jan. 31, New England Director of Autism Speaks U Kathleen Russell spoke about the role Autism Speaks U is playing attempts to raise awareness. Last year, Autism Speaks U, the college subsection of the organization, was responsible for raising close to $1 million.
This year, Autism Speaks U is hoping to raise even more money. Five chapters across the country have already signed up to organize 5K events, with goal of each raising $20,000.
Despite being a new chapter, UMass has quickly risen to the second highest fundraising school in the country, behind only Penn State. They have currently raised more than $6,000 through fundraising for their 5K, which is set to take place on April 7.
In 2011, the UMass Autism Speaks 5K, under the direction of fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi and sorority Sigma Delta Tau, raised over $15,000.
Along with fundraising efforts, the UMass Autism Speaks U chapter has also placed large emphasis on autism awareness. The group is selling autism awareness bracelets, and is in talks with UMass athletic teams to put the autism awareness puzzle piece symbol on their uniforms. The group also plans on visiting local middle schools and high schools to teach them about autism and encourage them to create their own groups at school, according to co-president Stephanie Tufano.
The group is also trying to increase their visibility in the community through tabling in the campus center and at both the Holyoke and Hampshire Malls. They explained that making Austim Speaks U a well-known group may give some families much needed information about what to do either before or after an autism diagnosis.
“You’d be surprised how many people, even in just the campus center, will come up to you and tell you their story and how they are connected to autism,” said co-preident Daniel Harpaz during the group’s first meeting.
Harpaz said that last year in the Campus Center, a parent walked up to him and said, “‘I think my kid has autism- I just don’t know what to do.’” Harpaz provided the man with as much information as he could at the time, and was able to point him to the support of Autism Speaks.
Autism is currently the fastest growing developmental disability in the country, affecting one out of every 88 children, a number that has been consistently increasing in the past few years. At this point, the cause of the disability is unknown.
The UMass chapter is hoping that, with their new status as an official chapter, they will be able to increase fundraising, awareness, and provide UMass students with a way to give back.
“I am so impressed at how fast and quickly this chapter has come together,” Russell said. “It is a real testament to the UMass community.”
Russell added that garnering support at the college level us important as students “are the future business leaders, parents, and community members.” She noted that she hoped students would continue to be interested in the topic as they grew older.
Erin Wolosz can be reached at email@example.com.