A windstorm struck down trees and power lines across the North Country last Friday night, but that didn’t stop the Autism Alliance of Northeastern New York from hosting its 13th annual Autism Awareness Walk at the Clinton County Fairgrounds the next day.
By 9:30 a.m., 18 large and local businesses were already tabling, advertising their companies and entertaining children before the walk took place. Kids bounced around inflatable houses, snacked on free ice cream and competed in lawn games.
Program coordinator Jessica Perry said the organization was founded by a small planning committee for the Autism Awareness Walk in 2005 and became a non-profit in 2011. Perry said the walk is one of the organization’s biggest fundraising events of the year.
The planning committee arranged for a local upstate band, Flame, to perform at this year’s Autism Awareness Walk. Flame is a 10-person cover band from Gloversville, New York, which has been performing state and nationwide since 2003. Each band member has a disability, such as autism, Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness, paralysis and Asperger’s. After booking the band for concerts at the Strand Theatre in downtown Plattsburgh in previous years, Perry believed the band would bring their good energy to the annual walk.
“We just wanted to give them a bigger audience,” Perry said. “To us, they deserve to reach more people in the North Country.”
Due to last week’s power outage, Perry and other board members rented a generator so Flame could still perform for the expected crowd of roughly 750.
The Autism Alliance of Northeastern New York’s website states that this year’s walk had raised a total of $21,262. With all proceeds going toward the organization, walkers were encouraged to create, join or donate to teams inspired by community members with autism and their families. Team Lucas was announced as the winner, raising the most money out of 40 other teams with $3,970.
Thirty to 40 volunteers, some Plattsburgh State students, attended the walk Saturday. Sophomore nursing majors Kacie Lavalley and Sierra Barrett watched kids as they played inside two large red, blue and yellow bounce houses.
“We got here at 8 to help set up,” Lavalley said. “We started with balloons, and when they [blew up] the bounce houses, we just came over.”
Lavalley has volunteered for the walk for three years. She currently works for Residential Resources in Plattsburgh, an organization that works to better the quality of life for people with developmental and acquired disabilities through community engagement.
“I’ve grown up working with kids on the spectrum in every way,” Lavalley said.
Barrett is a member of the PSUC chapter of Alpha Phi Sorority, but she volunteered for the walk on her own. While this is only her second time volunteering for Autism Awareness, she also works with March of Dimes, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of mothers and their babies.
“It’s nice to see [the kids] as the main focus [as they] play together and feel included,” Barrett said.
Lavalley also appreciates the organization for all the work they put into their walk.
“I think it’s great that all these kids can come out and have a day that’s catered to them,” Lavalley said.
Inside a covered pavilion, 14 differently themed raffle baskets lined the wall, alongside shoe boxes wrapped in white paper, decorated in blue puzzle pieces and filled with raffle tickets. PSUC rising senior and childhood and special education major Alicia Bedard sold roughly 250 raffle tickets in just two hours since she started volunteering at 8:30 a.m. that morning.
Bedard first volunteered for the walk during her freshman year. Last year, Bedard said $1,300 was raised on raffle tickets alone.
“I work with a young boy who has autism through Respite with New York State,” Bedard said. “He’s not here today, but I’ll be thinking of him.”
While studying education, Bedard has the opportunity to substitute teach kindergarten through second grade at Peru Primary School.
Even though she usually remembers working with a few other volunteers at the raffle booth during past walks, Bedard was alone Saturday morning, selling tickets: one for $1, five for $5, 10 for $10 and 25 for $20—a whole five extra tickets for paying the highest amount.
As a Morrisonville resident, Bedard hopes to further her education working with children by continuing to volunteer for events like the Autism Awareness Walk for as long as she can.
“[The feeling is] amazing,” Bedard said. “I love to babysit and volunteer, anything with kids. I want to work with kids who have autism. That’s [the] reason I’m here.”
Email Emma Vallelunga at firstname.lastname@example.org