WALK FOR AUTISM: Group dedicated to awareness grows in numbers, dollars

COLUMBIA CITY — In the past three months, an Autism support group has taken shape, established regular meetings, seen growth in meeting participants and after Sunday, can add a benefit walk to its list of accomplishments.Kelly Pence is an ally for the Autism Society of Indiana. She said that the society saw the need to have local support throughout the state and instituted area allies. Pence works with counties in Northeast Indiana. “Jamie Bloom contact me with questions she had with her child and mentioned that a group would be great to have in Whitley County, “ said Pence. “With her excitement to get a group going, we started working together to make it happen.”Bloom, who is a parent to a child diagnosed with Autism said, “When my husband and I got our child’s diagnosis, there was a sense of loneliness as if we were the only ones going through this.”With no local support, Bloom said her family had to rely on neighboring counties for resources and help dealing with Autism. “We didn’t know where to go or what to do,”said Bloom. “I really wanted this group in our county so that we could help eliminate those feelings of uncertainty for other families.”With the group only hold a few meetings, Bloom and Pence, along with other families, came together to organize a one-mile walk.The event was held Sunday at the Whitley County YMCA. Estimated totals show 300 walkers and $5,000 raised.“It is phenomenal,” said Pence. “This would not have happened without all the families getting behind it and promoting it. They really did all the work. They made it happen.”Pence said the money raised will stay in Whitley County to help fund events and activities for the county’s support group.The support group meets the first Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the YMCA. Childcare is available, but Pence said that parents need to call the YMCA to let them know how many kids will be there. “The group is really an opportunity for families to learn and support each other,” Pence, a mother to an autistic child herself said. “I try to bring in speakers and resources at each meeting.”Now the group is averaging 15 families each month. “From the first day to yesterday’s walk, those number shows the ground we’re gaining in the area,” said Bloom.Another way Pence and other allies for the state’s society creates awareness is by helping schools learn about autism in a program entitled Autism 101.“We work with schools to train staff on how to look for things and work specifically with autistic children,” said Pence.For the programs offered, Pence said the society doesn’t take money from families.“We don’t want to add any extra to their burden. Even some of our training, most of our training, is free.”Bloom said with the success of the walk, Whitley County’s Autism support group will now have more options for other events and outreach services.“This community is awesome,”said Bloom. “We are excited to see how we can continue serving the families in this area.”For more information on the Autism Society of Indiana, contact Pence at 800-609-8449 or e-mail kelly@inautism.org.