Oscar night in Hollywood brings out the stars to walk the red carpet in gorgeous outfits, some of whom are hoping to take the little golden statute home with them at the end of the evening. Here in Chicago, the glamorous and the generous come out to walk the red carpet, watch the Oscars, and raise money in support of the Chicagoland chapter of Autism Speaks. Celebrating 10 years in the Chicago area, February 24 was the fifth annual Evening With the Stars, this year at the O'Hare Intercontinental Hotel and hosted by comedian Patty Vasquez, Mark Nilsson of ABC's 190 North and Ted Brunson of Chicago's Best.
Some 300 people were in attendance this year, hoping to best last year's fundraising total of $150,000. Silent auction items like trips, wines, cooking lessons, artwork and scores of other things of interest donated by friends of Autism Speaks helped to raise funds throughout the evening. And the money raised by ticket purchases also went towards the fundraising totals. The generosity of several vendors who donated food, wine, time, talent and energy, make this event a huge success each year.
Chicago celebrities came out in support and walked the red carpet. Spotted on the runway were Chicago Bears, Ike Hill, Donnell Woolford, Mark Greene, Major Hazelton, Glen Kozlowski, John Jonata and Allan Ellis; Denver Bronco Dave Blaha, Marc May of the Minnesota Vikings, Reggie Smith of the Broncos and theTampa Bay Buccaneers, Marques Sullivan of the Buffalo Bills and Tim Tyrell of the Falcons, Rams and Steelers were also in attendance. Singer/songwriter Jim Peterik of Ides of March and Survivor, who also penned the hit Eye of the Tiger, Singer/songwriter Andrew Salgado, TV personality Oscar Guzman of Telemundo, comedian and actor Aaron Freeman, and Miss Illinois, Stacie Juris, all showed their support by attending the event.
Not only does this event raise funds for research, it also helps to raise awareness about the disorder. One in 88 children are diagnosed with autism, which is a general term that describes a group of developmental brain disorders caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Characterized by difficulty in social behavior and communication, the disorder manifests itself in varying degrees. As important as it is to raise money to help fund research and treatment, it is equally important that the public be made aware of the symptoms and the benefits of early diagnosis and intervention.
According to their website, Autism Speaks works diligently to reduce the average age of diagnosis and improve the treatment of children across the spectrum of the disorder. Signs of autism can be seen as early as 6 months-12 months old. Accurate diagnosis can be made by as early as 2 years of age, yet the average age of a child diagnosed with the disorder is 5.
The initiative Early Access to Care focuses efforts in several areas: "new and more accurate estimates of autism’s costs and how these costs can be reduced by lowering the age of detection and improving access to early intervention; updated and improved estimates of autism prevalence in the United States, based on more comprehensive sampling methods; improvement of parent-mediated early intervention techniques; web-based training for professionals that will enhance the quality of community services; international extension of these efforts through Autism Speaks Global Autism Public Health Initiative; and support of research in early detection and early intervention through Autism Speaks High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium and Toddler Treatment Network."
The many volunteers who worked tirelessly to make this event a monumental success are probably back at work today, getting ready for the next big event. On April 2, Chicago and the rest of the world will Light it Up Blue to kick off the United Nation's sanctioned World Autism Day. Then on May 18, the public is invited to Walk Now for Autism Speaks by sponsoring a team to raise more funds to support the efforts of the organization. Hope to see you there.