SAFE WALK FOR ALL

Fam­i­lies find sup­port at autism re­source event

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - LOCAL - BY KELLY MONITZ STAFF WRITER

HA­ZLE TWP. — T he Ha­zle­ton Area High School March­ing Band kicked off the first lap of the SAFE Autism Walk and Re­source Fair at the school’s track along West 23rd Street on Satur­day morn­ing.

Nu­mer­ous tents were set up with ta­bles where fam­i­lies could get in­for­ma­tion about re­sources for loved ones af­fected by autism spec­trum dis­or­der and ser­vices avail­able in the area.

SAFE stands for Sup­port­ing Autism and Fam­i­lies Ev­ery­where and this is sixth year for the an­nual walk, which raises money that stays lo­cally to help people with ASD, said Eileen Per­chak, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

The funds go to­ward a mu­sic ex­pe­ri­ence, a soccer out­ing and other trips and events, a teen so­cial skills/ ac­tiv­ity group, a chil­dren’ s group and an adult Asperger’s group, she said.

SAFE has been in ex­is­tence for 25 years and pri­vately funded through do­na­tions, Per­chak said. The group hoped to raise $10,000 through the walk, while putting fam­i­lies in touch with the re­sources they need, she said.

“We are grate­ful to the band, which comes out ev­ery year,” Per­chak said while grilling up hot dogs for them.

SAFE also hosts sup­port group meet­ing with guest speak­ers with

rel­e­vant top­ics for fam­i­lies, said Peggy Du­rako, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor. The meet­ings are held at the Ha­zle­ton YMCA and the Gra­ham Acad­emy in Kingston, she said. They also have swim­ming events for kids Y on week­ends, she said.

An­gelina Um­briac sang the na­tional an­them and at­tor­ney Con­rad Falvello, rep­re­sent­ing U.S. Rep. Lou Bar­letta, R-11, Ha­zle­ton, read a let­ter sup­port­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the event from the con­gress­man, as did Christo­pher Pavlick, rep­re­sent­ing state Rep. Tarah Too hil,R -116, But­ler Twp ., who could not at­tend the event.

Signs with spon­sors’ names ringed the track and tricky trays were avail­able un­der one of the tents. Fior Ro­jas took some chances while wait­ing to see her son come around the track as he marched with the band.

Tammy Wall of Sum­mit Hill walked the first lap with her 6- yearold daugh­ter, Chessa, who has autism. She was sur­prised they made it all the way around, be­cause Chessa doesn’t al­ways co­op­er­ate.

She came to the walk to find re­sources be­cause there re­ally aren’t any in Car­bon County, she said. Ha­zle­ton isn’t that far away so it was worth a look, Wall said.

Chessa at­tends spe­cial classes and they also turned to Turn to Us in Jim Thorpe, which puts fam­i­lies deal­ing with a chronic ill­ness in touch with re­sources and fi­nan­cial and emo­tional sup­port, Wall said.

Eric and Danielle Smith came out to the walk with their fam­ily be­cause their son, Caleb, has autism.

“It’s been an up­hill bat­tle,” Danielle said. “He was non-ver­bal un­til age 3. We love SAFE. We’ re here ev­ery year. We go to as many of their events as we can.” Con­tact the writer: kmonitz@stan­dard speaker.com; 570-501-3589

MARY T. PAGANO / CON­TRIBUT­ING PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Ha­zle­ton Area High School Cougars’ March­ing Band leads the be­gin­ning lap ofthe SAFE Autism Walk and Re­source Fair at the school’s track Satur­day.

Chessa Wall of Sum­mit Hill and her mom, Tammy, com­plete one lap of the walk. Chessa has autism, and her mother said she was sur­prised they made it all the way around, as Chessa doesn’t al­ways co­op­er­ate.

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