Last Saturday, my family spent over five hours at the Walk Now for Autism Speaks, Los Angeles event at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
I am a committee member for this event. I have the position of Volunteer Chair. I organize, assign, and supervise over 200 volunteers for this fabulous day.
Our walk committee plans all year for this event. We start meeting in the fall. We meet once a month until April. We meet three times in April.
For this year’s event, the number of walkers swelled to over 30,000. My volunteers numbered over 200. Area volunteers and AS staff added approximately fifty more people.
Why did I choose to help out Autism Speaks?
Autism Speaks is one of the largest – if not the largest – autism organization in the country. After approximately two years in the world of autism, I felt it was time to give back. I had been learning about autism almost non-stop during that time. We had kept our son’s diagnosis mainly to ourselves but were considering beginning to tell people. We were feeling comfortable with our newfound knowledge. I felt it was time for me to “get myself out there.”
I chose Autism Speaks because I had heard about the walk. I read their mission statement and met with one of people in charge of the Los Angeles location. He impressed me, and I signed on.
What work do I do?
I am a volunteer. For three weeks out of the year, my position creates a good deal of “busy” computer work. I receive names, addresses, and other information from Autism Speaks of people who have registered to volunteer for the event. This year I had over 250 names to organize on a spreadsheet. At a certain point, I ask the AS staff to close registration. I basically have “enough” volunteers and don’t need more.
I welcome the volunteers to our event via email. I give them lots of information in this welcoming email. I ask them to let me know their work area preference.
I then organize all of my volunteers by work areas after assigning them jobs. I send a second email to inform them of their assignments. There is other information I give out in the second email which includes parking information, start times, and a Code of Conduct letter.
What is a Code of Conduct letter?
Autism Speaks wants anyone who comes to their events to feel free to be themselves. Their events celebrate autism awareness more than anything else. They ask that everyone attending their events act according to an awareness of people of the autism spectrum.
This means that if a child runs around whistling and clapping, they should not be laughed at or teased. This is their event. This is an event where no one has the right to ask them to quiet down or stop their hand flaps. This is not school or a private function or business where behavior may be more restricted. This is a “safe” place for them to go.
The Code of Conduct letter explains this in an abbreviated manner. It more or less states something like this: “Please try to understand that our kids are here because this walk is their event. We are celebrating them as individuals. Their behavior is appropriate for this event. If you tease or laugh at any of our attendees, your behavior is in the wrong. You will be asked to leave.”
Does my son participate in the walk?
When I first started this position on the walk committee five years ago, my husband brought our son to the event itself. They did the short walk and enjoyed the resource fair. The next year, they began to walk the long walk, over three miles. My son has walked with someone each year since.
Due to my responsibilities, I do not participate in the walk itself. I’m glad that the rest of my family does, however. It’s become quite a tradition.
Why do I volunteer?
My son knows I work on this event for Autism Speaks. Still, my child has yet to connect the dots. He still doesn’t know that I do this because of him. I’ve yet to hear my son say, “Hey, you work for this event because of autism and I have autism.”
That connection is coming, though. Probably sooner than I think.
Whether he knows that connection or not, I do feel it’s important for him to be a part of this event. I take him to committee meetings, another place where he’s comfortable.
I have my husband bring him to the event (I’m there way too early). He hangs around the volunteer room with me but also takes short trips out to the resource fair with his Daddy or his uncle. This year, I found a bit of time to take him out myself!
Someday I hope my child understands why I volunteer. It’s all because of him. I wouldn’t be doing this event if he didn’t have autism.
I want to honor my child and support his diagnosis as well as the diagnosis of people like him. I want to meet other parents, especially those parents just starting out. I want to help them. We were helped when we just started out. I want to “pay it forward,” if you will.
Someday, you may want to “get yourself out there” as well. Find an organization you believe in and give what you can, when you can. There’s no pressure. It’s about the experience and sharing and believing in something. It’s about supporting those you love.