Saturday, April 6th 2013, over 2000 people came together to celebrate, connect, laugh, share, and support each other in efforts to increase autism awareness in our community. The energy in the air was “electric”, a word used more than once with me when others described the day…full of energy, excitement, and electricity! While we felt the same electricity, there was much trepidation connected to the day itself. Rewinding through the previous week, we’d been busy handing out the 1 in 88 tee shirts, and nailing down any last minute details. It is only a little over a week since the day of the walk, and it is still difficult to capture all that the CARE Walk meant to so many families. Participating in the walk meant so much to so many families that were both present at the walk as well as those who were not. For many of those who did not make it to the walk, you walked for them. Their absence was not because they lack the same passion, rather, it was because autism played a significant role in their ability to join us. I had many parents and individuals call and email, telling of their inability to come because of the large crowd, the noises, the trepidation of the “unknown”, and of their fear that their child would have a complete meltdown. We all know how a setting such as the CARE Walk can conjure up some unexpected occurrences, and for some families and individuals, their participation occurred behind the scenes. Their support and enthusiasm was no less than those the families that were there that day, and our gratitude to them is no less!
In our 6th year, the Autism CARE Walk exploded with double the participants, a dramatic increase in community partners, and wonderful friends that helped us along the way. We were a huge presence in the heart of Wichita, and our efforts to increase autism awareness did not go unnoticed! It is because of events such as the CARE Walk that the CARE program continues to thrive as a community outreach program for hundreds of families. Programs such as Camp SSTAR, SSTAR Scouts, Nature Scouts, the Greenhouse Project, The Arts Project, and one on one family consultation services survive. As families struggle to afford services that insurance companies refuse to cover, you stepped up in response by participating, fundraising, and challenging all of us to be better stewards of our children, neighbors, classmates, and friends who daily live with the triumphs and challenges of autism.