News Column

More than 2,200 party, run, walk with Autism Society of Greater Akron

June 15, 2014

By Bob Downing, The Akron Beacon Journal



June 15--The Autism Society of Greater Akron really knows how to throw a party.

More than 2,000 runners and walkers assembled on Saturday morning in downtown Akron for the nonprofit group's fourth annual Akron Autism 5K Run and Walk, a family-friendly event.

There were cheerleaders from Springfield High School, a martial arts exhibition by students from Akron'sSummit Academy Schools, music from the local Steel Angels Steelband, inflated bounce houses, the children's band Zobapago, costumed characters, face painting and refreshments.

Another 200 supporters, vendors and volunteers showed up for the event, described as the largest charity affair staged at Akron's Lock 3 Park.

This year's event raised more than $90,000 for the local group and helped raise awareness of autism, said Executive Director Laurie Cramer. It is the group's No. 1 fundraising event.

"We're just thrilled with the results," she said.

The runners covered five kilometers (3.1 miles) on downtown streets and the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The walkers had a 1-mile course. Some pushed strollers and some had dogs on leashes.

The winning male-female runners were Jeff Beatty, 18, of Wadsworth, with a time of 16 minutes and 50 seconds and Melissa Vince, 24, of Canton, with a time of 20 minutes and 2 seconds.

The event is marked by the teams or crews wearing matching T-shirts in various colors and with different messages in personal support of individuals with autism.

The teams are most often extended families and friends of those who have autistic children. The connection is strong among participants and generates a community feel.

Thom Schwartzhoff, 31, of Stow, was there with eight or nine relatives and friends.

He was a rookie at the fundraising event. A friend has an autistic child and he thought it was important to get involved and to help, he said.

Schwartzhoff pushed his 2-year-old son, Owen, who rode on a mini-bike.

Jerry Eck's goal was modest: He wanted to finish the run standing up.

The 70-year-old from Tallmadge is a long-time runner who was coming out of semi-retirement to run again.

He said he was running with a friend, who has an autistic son.

"You feel good helping out groups like this. ... They are good people and as pure as any that our society has left," Eck said. "It's feels good to do a small part to help."

Audrey Casey of Medina was participating in the event for the first time and was in the family walk.

"This is the kind of event where everyone wants to help and get involved," said the 28-year-old, who has an autistic son.

The Autism Society of Greater Akron is one of more than 100 affiliates across the United States of the Autism Society of America, the nation's leading grass-roots autism organization.

The local group, with two paid staffers and 250 volunteers, serves Summit, Stark, Medina, Portage and Wayne counties.

It works to increase public awareness about the day-to-day issues faced by people on the autism spectrum, advocating for appropriate services and providing educational opportunities and support for families, providers, doctors, educators and others on how to best support someone with autism.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neuro-psychiatric disorder that afflicts 1 million American children. It is characterized by a deficit in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communications and by restricted and repetitive behavior. It affects perceptions and relationships.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.

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(c)2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at www.ohio.com

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Source: Akron Beacon Journal (OH)


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