Parents, friends hold move-a-thon to benefit programs for autism

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    MONTGOMERY-There was a festiveness in the cool, crisp autumn air. Nervousness, too. The small group of parents and friends who put the event together got the good weather they had hoped for. Now, they just hoped people would come. And come they did. By the end of the day, their pie-in-the-sky goal was surpassed. Everyone was exhausted but happy, proud to be part of this group. It was the first annual Parents Run A.M.O.C. (Autism Move-A-Thon of Orange County), held at Thomas Bull Memorial Park in Montgomery on Oct. 17. While thousands of people walked for breast cancer awareness as Woodbury Common, a few hundred people came to Montgomery. Most of them had a close connection to autism, either a child or sibling or student has the disorder, which affects an estimated 1.5 million children and adults. This was a day for education, support, music, and fun. Several organizations handed out literature about Autism, a disorder that is on the rise—the Centers for Disease Control estimates the number of people affected could rise to 4 million in the next decade. Local musicians volunteered their time and talents to entertain throughout the day. The music ranged from folk to country to classic rock. The Blank, a group of kids aged 11-13, played some original music as well as classics. Tina Ross and Kyle Hancharick of Warwick performed. Bobby Barton of Cornwall provided the sound, as well as performing with his partner, Paige Sessa. Sessa teaches children with Autism in the Washingtonville School District, as well as with Dynamic Therapies. Several of her students were in attendance. There were pony rides and two bouncy castles for the kids. The move-a-thon was led by a marching band. A long line of movers followed the band along the one-mile route. More than 50 prizes were donated from merchants all around the county for the huge raffle. But the purpose of the day was to raise both awareness and funds for Autism-related programs in Orange County. The fund-raiser was the brainchild of Lesa Walsh and Carol Anthony, two parents who know the toll autism can take on a family. Working with Anne Klingner of the Mental Health Association in Orange County, they put together a committee of people who had never done such a thing before. They shot for the sky, hoping to raise $20,000 on their first go round. Instead, they got $25,000 and counting, according to Klingner. "We really got the county going," said Klingner. "Money is still coming in. We did it! Everyone did it. This was the biggest single fundraiser done at this agency. It was a wonderful day!" Thanks in large part to people like Tom and Lisa Currao of Chester. Tom is a member of the FDNY. His family and friends got together and came en masse to walk and show their support. His FDNY family came through with the funds. He handed $2,300 plus at the registration table. "Everyone was just so generous," said Currao. "They were happy to do it." And the volunteers. Warwick Valley Middle School eighth grader Valentina Palladino volunteered the entire day, painting faces. An entire soccer team sold raffles throughout the morning, while a Girl Scout troop helped with registration. Parking duties were manned by volunteers as well. Numerous parents manned the bouncy castles, handed out the free breakfast, and stayed around through clean-up. What exactly is Autism? It is a complex developmental disability that usually appears during the first three years of life. It impacts the normal development of the brain, especially in areas of social interaction and communication skills. Most children diagnosed with autism have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities. Organizers and participants are already thinking about the second annual move-a-thon. "People are emailing me saying ‘what can we do for next year?'," said Klingner, with a smile.