MA, SWHS students partner for autism

Published 12:56 pm Monday, April 18, 2011

LINDEN — What started as an idea between friends will begin making a difference Saturday when the Marengo Academy Psychology Club hosts its inaugural Autism Awareness Walk.

The idea was born of a friendship between Heather Stephens, a psychology teacher at Marengo Academy, and her closest friend, Sher Gates.

Gates is the mother of 17-year-old Taylor Gates, a young man who struggles with autism.

Email newsletter signup

The duo has long participated in other autism awareness fundraisers but decided to try their hand at hosting something for West Alabama.

“We usually walk in the Mobile (autism awareness) walk,” Stephens said. “But we have always kind of wanted to have something a little closer to Linden. We figured since I am teaching psychology now, this would be the perfect opportunity.”

The work began with Stephens and the Marengo Academy Psychology Club, who will hold the event Saturday. The effort quickly spread to nearby Sweet Water High School, where Taylor’s younger sister, Raigan, is a freshman. Enthusiastic about aiding in the effort to find a cure for the affliction that plagues her brother, Raigan was eager to join in the cause.

She had the idea to hold a bake sale to help raise funds for the cause and has worked to promote the event in both Sweet Water and Thomasville.

“We’ve got a group in Sweet Water that is doing a bake sale,” Stephens said of the Sweet Water students, who will also be participating in the walk.

In addition to the bake sale being done by Sweet Water students, Marengo Academy students have raised funds through a variety of avenues.

“We have sold T-shirts for the walk and have sold the autism awareness bracelets,” Stephens said. “Right now we’ve got about $1,200.”

Those proceeds, and any additional funds raised from donations or other means, will go to helping the cause on a state level.

“All money is going to the autism society of Alabama,” Stephens said.

And while Linden’s first autism awareness walk has not even happened yet, the event has already gained traction and promises to manifest itself on a larger scale next year.

Event organizers have already partnered up with Jennifer Robertson, the fundraiser for the Autism Society of Alabama and one of the key figures in the Mobile walk. That partnership will produce a larger event for 2012 as the two entities work in unison to benefit autism awareness in Alabama.

And to think that the work’s extension into rural west Alabama took only the friendship of two people, a sister’s love for her brother and a group of people willing to help.

The first autism awareness walk will begin at 9:45 a.m. when participants meet at the Gazebo. The walk will be a three-mile trek and is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. until noon.