Suburban Philadelphia Families Support the Autism Cares Foundation’s Race for ResourcesWhen parents are first given a diagnosis of autism for their young son or daughter it can be frightening. There can often be a myriad of emotions, unanswered questions, and a hunger for just the right services and programs to make sure their child thrives in every possible way.
Not always knowing exactly where to turn, these parents and their extended families reach out for support and comfort through their challenging journey, and hundreds of parents have already turned to the Autism Cares Foundation and its extended family to fill that void.
On Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 nearly 2,000 supporters of the non-profit Autism Cares Foundation gathered at Bucks County Community College in suburban Newtown, Pennsylvania, (outside Philadelphia), on a crisp autumn day for the 8th Annual Race for Resources.
This inspiring fundraising event was a time for families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and the extended community to walk, run, connect, learn, and spread the message of love, acceptance and inclusion for all of us, especially for children, teens, and adults with autism and other special needs.Loving mom Debbie Schnell, her husband, Karl, and their family started Team Daniel this year in honor of her five-year-old son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with autism three years ago. The 35-member Team Daniel was one of the 61 teams that came out to support loved ones with autism and raise money for the Autism Cares Foundation.
The Schnell family raised money through fundraisers at the Arby’s in Feasterville, PA., where Debbie works. This caring mom was touched by the numbers of people who came to the Race for Resources to support her son. “Daniel is pumped up to be at the race, and our hearts are filled with love for everyone who came out to support us,” Schnell said.
“I want to keep helping and raising money so that this grass-roots organization stays around. Having a child with autism can be hard,” she said. “When I am at an Autism Cares Foundation event I feel like I belong, and to me that is priceless. It feels like being part of an extended family, and this really means the world to me.”
The Race for Resources, one of the non-profit group’s major fundraising events, included a 5K, 10K, Family Walk and Autism Expo, as well as family-friendly activities: face painting, a video game bus, a bounce maze, and lots of mouth-watering refreshments.
A broad section of the community, including 100 volunteers, were there to spread the vital message of acceptance, love, and inclusion. They also came to support a better life for children, teens, and adults with autism and other special needs, and their families.The non-profit Autism Cares Foundation, located in Southampton, Bucks County, PA., was started as a result of a discussion at their kitchen table by Frank Kuepper and his wife, Linda, after their younger son, Michael, was diagnosed with autism before his third birthday.
Instead of helplessly standing by and watching their son be left out of birthday parties and other social events, they decided to establish a non-profit that provides a warm, safe, nurturing and inclusive environment where Michael and other children, teens, and adults with special needs are able to socialize, learn, grow, and thrive together.
During the recent race, the Kuepper family’s team, Special K, was raring to go, and Michael, now 19, was front and center, enjoying the high-energy and enthusiasm of the crowd.
“It is truly inspirational to see everyone coming together to support our worthy cause,” Linda Kuepper said. “We have built long-lasting friendships, and we are here for each other.”
While the families are certainly faced with challenges, they know that they have an extended family through the Autism Cares Foundation.
“This has given our families a sense of hope,” she said, “and a reason to continue to work together to find the best available resources to assist our loved ones.”
Frankie Kuepper, Michael’s 22-year-old brother, has been involved with the Autism Cares Foundation every step of the way, and he knows that siblings of children and adults with autism have their own unique challenges in navigating their family dynamics.
“This race means the world to me,” Frankie Kuepper said. “The entire event itself has been the culmination of what we have worked so hard for all of these years, and the fact that everyone comes out to support us, and what we stand for, is a phenomenal thing.”
He said he knows his life has been changed by having a brother with autism, and he focuses on all of the positives. “Being Michael’s older brother has made me the man that I am today. My brother, and all of the experiences, the laughs, the sorrows, and everything in between, have shaped my view of the world, and I have him to thank for it.”
For all of those who raced, donated, volunteered and helped with the race, the Autism Cares Foundation gave a heart-felt thanks. “It takes a special individual to get involved in a cause that continues to make a difference,” Linda Kuepper said. “Thank you for stepping forward with us and for helping to enrich the lives of people with autism today, and helping to build them a brighter tomorrow.”To date, the Autism Cares Foundation has held more than 1,000 events, social programs and life enrichment opportunities, which have benefited more than 900 local families.
CBS3 News Anchor Jim Donovan served as the master of ceremonies and said he was proud to introduce the Autism Cares Foundation’s Glee Club, which gave and an uplifting performance of the National Anthem.
The Autism Expo tent featured 27 vendors to help families who are caring for their loved ones with autism and other special needs to find various local resources. These vendors included: speech services, behavioral services, soccer programs, allergen-free bakery, camps, special education schools, iPad Enrichment Classes, legal services, dental services and more.
There were many canine friends, lots of strollers with infants and toddlers clad in brightly-colored, team T-shirts, uplifting music provided by Dolan’s DJs, cheerleaders from the Philadelphia Flyers, and volunteers from local high schools, colleges, community and civic groups, and more.
A delicious luncheon for the participants was provided by race sponsors the Bloomin’ Group, which includes Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Bonefish Grill.
Organizers said that one of the reasons that the Race for Resources means so much to the Autism Cares Foundation is that it provides a time for everyone to get together with neighbors and friends to show their support at the same time and in the same place.
“Looking around today, this is an emotional experience. I am blown away by all of this support,” said Frank Kuepper, co-founder and president of the Autism Cares Foundation. “I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished. This crowd gives us so much inspiration and invigorates us to do more, and we know that there is so much more that needs to be done.”
He said that the volunteers and staff are dedicated every day to providing programs and services to the individuals with autism and other special needs, which enables them to try things for the first time, learn new things, and to continue practicing life-long skills.
Among those social programs, events, and life enrichment activities are the following: sensory-friendly movies, holiday-themed parties, hayrides, teen prom, bounce parties, swimming, bowling, Glee Club, Fun Club, and more.
In addition to the 200 free annual activities and programs, the Autism Cares Foundation is expanding its offerings. “We are now serving 30 clients in the Adult Services Division,” said Race Chairman Fred Sciacia, “and we are looking forward to expanding the program next year to include home and community services and supported employment.”The Autism Cares Foundation is working on setting up events in New Jersey in 2018 in hopes of starting its first chapter in another state. Autism Cares Foundation is a registered charity in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, with plans to expand outside the Tri-State area in the future.
The Autism Cares Foundation is eagerly looking toward the future; toward a time “when it can address the need for life-long care, because new life-care facilities are essential for our growing population,” Frank Kuepper explained.
“In the meantime, we ask for everyone’s continued support, as the hundreds of families that you are helping are truly appreciative that you have chosen to make a difference in their lives,” he said. “Just look around at the miles of smiles that you are helping to provide.”
This was the second Race for Resources for proud local father Peter Prete, whose team Peter’s Phanatics came out to cheer for his four-year-old son, Peter. “It is so touching to feel all of this love from our family and friends,” Prete said. “It’s a beautiful day and just looking around at all of this support it is truly amazing!”
For further information about the Autism Cares Foundation, please go to:
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