'Autism Speaks U' aims to change the future of the disorder
Local residents and students devoured dozens of blueberry bagels at Autism Speaks U at Virginia Tech’s first Bagel Binge fundraiser April 6.
The Bagel Binge was part of the series of events Autism Speaks U at Virginia Tech organized for Autism Awareness month in April. Autism Speaks U at Virginia Tech is a student-run chapter of the national organization Autism Speaks, which is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization.
The student group’s values follow the mission of the national organization, which is “to change the future for all who struggle with autism spectrum disorders.” The group upholds this mission by having fundraisers to benefit Autism Speaks. Members also serve as aides or babysitters for people with autism in the local area.
For the Bagel Binge, the organization teamed up with Panera Bread, Theta Delta Chi, and Theta Tau to coordinate the bagel-eating contest. All proceeds went to the national Autism Speaks organization. About 100 people came to support the event and 67 people competed in the contest. The top three participants all received gift cards to Panera.
“Just from the online donations and ticket sales, we raised $1,140,” said Megan Ledoux from Fairfax, Va., a junior majoring in psychology in the College of Science and human development and classical studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “That number does not include any tickets or donations at the event, any funds from the dine-in night, or any bracelet sales. An estimate of the final number is more than $1,200.” Ledoux is president of the student group.
As an added incentive for students to participate, the University of Virginia chapter held the same event at the same time. This resulted in a friendly competition to see who could get more donations. “Our collegiate coordinator from Autism Speaks, Sarah Caminker, organized the competition between the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech to see who could raise more funds during this event,” Ledoux said. “I’m 99 percent certain that Virginia Tech won.” Virginia Tech did raise more money than the University of Virginia with a total of $1,230.
Panera also gave a percentage of the money they made in dine-in sales to the group. “We always have a good turnout at events, and the places we have hosted them have always given us a generous amount of their proceeds,” said Amanda Qadado from Sterling, Va., a sophomore majoring in psychology in the College of Science. “We raise at least $200 at every fundraiser, and we hope to have more and more with every semester.” Quadado is the group's treasurer.
“My favorite moments have been our fundraising events,” Qadado said. “It is really amazing to see people come out to our events to help raise money and how willing they are to donate.”
The organization’s first fundraiser was “A Mile of Change” spring 2011 where they raised over $500 for the national chapter and the local clinic. Since then, the group has raised awareness through a booth at Gobblerfest, a happy hour fundraiser at Hokie House, Autism Awareness Day, and other events.
“I want to continue what we are doing, but at a higher level,” Qadado said. “I want to raise more awareness with students, help more throughout the community, and raise and donate as much money as possible.”
Autism Speaks U at Virginia Tech is currently working with a program called Friday Night Friends. Parents who have a child with a disability can bring their children to the Fieldstone Untied Methodist Church in Blacksburg. The organization provides a movie or speaker for the parents while group members watch their children.
“In honor of Autism Awareness month and Easter, we did activities with the kids like decorating a construction paper Easter egg, having an Easter egg hunt, and playing board games,” Ledoux said. “It was a lot of fun for both the parents and children.”
Some of the group’s goals for the future include more involvement in community projects like Friday Night Friends, The Big Event, and Relay for Life. Ledoux said she also hopes to strengthen their partnerships with other student organizations to make each event as successful as the Bagel Binge.
“Everyone in the organization has such positive energy and makes every event enjoyable,” Ledoux said. “We always have fun and try to create fun experiences for those affected with autism in our community. Seeing smiles on everyone’s faces makes all the planning worthwhile.”
By Lauren Marshall from Marshall, Va., a senior majoring in communication and human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.