Plenty of people gathered at Riverside Park on Saturday for the fifth-annual Autism Walk — more than 1,000 — but those who missed out on the event can still be a part of the effort.
“We’re about $1,000 away from our goal,” said Bridget Soots, walk coordinator and a leader of the Surry County Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina, which hosts the event.
“If anyone out there can help us, we could still reach it,” she said. “I think it will come in.”
Soots, the parent of an autistic child, Caiden, a fifth grader at Franklin Elementary, was pleased with the walk, which as of Saturday had raised about $44,000 to aid the local cause.
“I’m very blessed to have such a huge turnout and the weather cooperating,” she said.
“I just want to thank everyone who came out, all the sponsors and families, everyone who came today made it successful.”
At the event Saturday, emcee David Bumgardner noted the many good reasons the walk is an important fundraiser:
All the proceeds stay in Surry County.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the country with a child diagnosed an average every 20 minutes.
The event has generated more than $35,000 for the local schools to provide resources and support to better deal with autistic students.
Jim Armbrister, Mount Airy City commissioner, read a resolution from the city proclaiming the day as “Autism Day.”
“It’s a beautiful day with beautiful people,” he said.
Jo’Ray Singletary, father of a 5-year-old autistic child, Cadyn, said the walk “means a lot,” for reasons beyond the money.
“A lot of people don’t understand autism,” he said, noting that he gets comments that his child doesn’t “look” autistic.
“Autism doesn’t have an expression,” he said.
While the walk helps raise that awareness, he said “there’s more work to be done.”
Several participants were honored during the opening ceremonies:
• Cadyn’s mother, Tammy Singletary, for building the largest team of the event.
Her employer, Phillips-Van Heusen, sponsored the event and “Team Cadyn” sold 124 T-shirts, the most of any team.
• Granite City Brews and Surry Insurance, the two top businesses, for raising $2,000 each.
• Janice Hawks, the most donations from an individual, for raising $3,000.
• Gentry Middle School, $920, Pilot Mountain Middle School, $528, Millennium Charter Academy, $255, and Dobson Elementary, $107.
After the opening activities, walkers headed down the Ararat River greenway to walk as much or as little as desired.
Betty Giles walked with her autistic son Adam Giles, with whom she had just moved to the area from Arizona.
She said in her former home state, similar events were not as accessible.
“We’re glad to be here,” Betty Giles said.
Back at home base, a pair of local zumba instructors led a group of those who chose a different form of exercise to show their support.
Several different vendors set up at the home base area in the park, some providing information about autism.
At one booth, D.J. Svoboda, from the Raleigh area, sold his art work printed on different media such as post cards and calendars.
Some of the colorful pieces included inspirational messages.
Svoboda said the pictures are based on the challenges and experiences he had growing up with autism.
“It’s part of the great mission to help the world understand that autistic people want to be accepted and understood,” he said.
“I’m here to help those with autism know they too have a place in the world, that they can make a difference, that their dreams can come true.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.