Race, walk help raise funds, autism awareness
HUNTINGTON — Every day is autism awareness day in Michelle Ramey’s home in Hurricane, W.Va.
Ramey, her daughters Ann Marie and Bella, were among more than 1,300 people on hand Saturday morning for the 13th annual Rally for Autism at Ritter Park. Bella, 5, is autistic.
“We’re here to support kids with autism,” Ramey said. “This is the second time we’ve been here. It rained the last time we were here. This is a lot nicer. We got up at 6:30 a.m. to get here. I think it’s good to have something like this and see other parents who are going through the same things as we are.”
The event raised more than $100,000 last year and Elaine Harvey, event organizer, is hoping for a larger amount this year. The money goes to programs including the Autism Society of the River Cities, Autism Services Center and the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University, Harvey said. The money raised stays locally, according to event organizers.
In the past several years, there’s been a 30 percent increase in the number of children born with autism, Harvey said. It’s increased from one in 88 births to one in 68, she said.
The event started more than a dozen years with a walk around the park and a fundraiser. That first year drew 220 participants in the snow. This year, more than a thousand people pre-registered, she said. It has grown to include a bike ride and 5K race.
“It’s grown incrementally,” Harvey said. “I’m very excited with the turnout. Almost everyone knows someone with autism.”
Sue Hanna of Ona sure does. Her two grandsons, Aidan and Jonas Hanna both have autism.
“I did the walk last year, but I can’t this year due to a back problem,” she said. “I think this is a wonderful event. It’s very well attended. They’re offering so much more for autistic children these days.”
There were more than 40 teams registered to participate this year. Jermaine Gadson of Montgomery, Ala., was on one of those teams wearing a “Our Hero Joseph” T-shirt. “I’ve done this every year for 11 years,” Gadson said. “I’m here to support my cousin.”
There also were more than 200 volunteers helping put on the event, said Rebecca Pack of Huntington, volunteer coordinator for the Rally for Autism.
“This is my third year,” Pack said. “So many people want to support the cause. I didn’t know anyone at first. I just heard they needed volunteers so I signed up. It becomes more personal every year.”
David Rann, 59, of South Point, was among those participating in the 5K Saturday.
“My neighbor, Melissa Evans, told me about the race,” Rann said. “It’s for a great cause. They have a great turnout. I do 10 to 15 of these a year. My money is going to go somewhere. Why not for a good cause.”
He ran the race in 20:16, his best time of the year. “I do this to keep healthy and active,” Rann said. He also runs in 10Ks and a half-marathon and plans to try a marathon later this year.
The event included the Seaton and Moira Taylor 5K Walk, sponsored by Campbell Woods PLLC; a Rally for Autism 5K run; and a Rally for Autism 25-mile bike ride.
“We at the WVATC are proud to participate in the 13th annual Rally for Autism,” said Dr. Marc Ellison, interim executive director of the center.
“In addition to being a premier source of autism awareness in the state, the event always has the feel of a reunion of sorts for the Tri-State’s autism community. A well aware, well informed community is essential for supporting individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders as they pursue a life of quality.”
The West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall is a statewide program that offers a variety of direct training and training resources to West Virginia families and educators of children with autism.
The center provides direct care, life-span services in residential and community settings to assist individuals with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities to reach their full potential.
Autism Society River Cities Chapter is an all-volunteer organization providing information and support to individuals and families living with autism in the Tri-State area, including eastern Kentucky, southern Ohio and western West Virginia.
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