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Autism Delaware honors extraordinary volunteers

Shown at the Autism Delaware yearly celebration held in Dover are (l-r) Milton florist Lisa Held, Home Depot staff members Toni Maestrale and Irene Rodriguez, Artisans’ Bank employees Dee Sedlacek and Judy Mashishin, Autism Delaware President Marcy Kempner and Milton residents Jim and Koh Morrisey. SOURCE SUBMITTED
June 27, 2013

Autism Delaware’s most valuable asset, its volunteers, were honored recently at Dover Downs Hotel. During the annual celebration, the autism agency highlighted the extraordinary effort made by organizations and individuals who donated their time, resources and expertise to help meet Autism Delaware’s mission in 2012.

Receiving the Autism Delaware Noel Perry Smith Award for Outstanding Employer, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino and Dover Motorsports Inc., were acknowledged for their hiring practices, employing people with autism spectrum disorders and serving as positive role models for the employment community. They have been longtime community partners with Autism Delaware’s adult services program known as Productive Opportunities for Work and Recreation.  Many people with ASDs, including the four currently employed POW&R participants, have been able to gain valuable work experience.

A Delaware eatery and a state senator were both named Autism Delaware Outstanding Leaders in the Community. This honor acknowledges contributions made to the statewide autism community.

Grotto Pizza was acknowledged for offering internships and paying jobs to adults with ASDs in 2012. Grotto Pizza Grand Slam in Lewes has been a training site for youth transitioning out of the Sussex Consortium. In addition to offering employment opportunities to POW&R participants, Grotto Pizza has donated food to the Autism Delaware Walk for Autism and annual holiday party and sponsored the Autism Delaware Drive for Autism.

For her contribution to the autism community, Delaware Sen. Liane Sorenson, R-Hockessin, was also named an outstanding leader. Sorenson was instrumental in securing the passage of Senate Bill 22, which required health insurers to cover autism treatment. Sorenson maintained a high profile at the Delaware General Assembly Kids’ Caucus, met with caucus cochairs and Gov. Jack Markell, who eventually signed the bill into law, and lobbied the joint finance committee for funding. As a result of Sorenson’s effort, autism therapy benefits are now available to any child who has an ASD and regulated or state employee insurance.

Awards for Outstanding Autism Delaware Volunteer were presented to six individuals and organizations. These volunteers provided much-needed help during social outings and fundraising events and provided it often throughout the year. Because they all donated their valuable time and expertise so generously, Autism Delaware could apply more funding toward creating better lives for Delawareans with autism and their families.

Milton residents Jim and Koh Morrisey are longtime members of the Autism Delaware Blue Jean Ball Committee. As food coordinator, Jim manages the servers and fellow volunteers, regulates the distribution of food and ice, stocks the bars with beer and wine, and assists the setup of food vendors. As cochair of the committee, Koh helps with pre-event publicity and solicits food donations and staffing from local restaurants. Koh also approaches local businesses for in-kind donations for the auction while encouraging ticket sales.

Milton florist Lisa Held volunteered her time and expertise on the Blue Jean Ball’s décor subcommittee for the last two years. Staying within Autism Delaware’s budget, Held created new decorations from readily available materials and asked her Hillside Flowers supervisor to donate rose bowls to enhance the setting. In between Held’s other jobs, she scheduled time to decorate the hall before the event and returned later to help clean up.

For the past two years, Home Depot staff members volunteered to work at the children’s crafts table at both the Lewes and Wilmington sites of the Walk for Autism. The staff prepared by learning how to interact and communicate with children with ASDs.

For the past three years, Artisans’ Bank has granted Autism Delaware access to a banking facility so that Walk for Autism staff could reconcile donations. The bank employees also alphabetized checks and counted, wrapped and deposited the funds. This process usually takes days, but with the help of Artisans’ Bank employees, Autism Delaware completed the work in only one business day.

Also supporting the Walk for Autism reconciliation process, Wilmington resident Barbara Butterworth has volunteered her time and knowledge of accounting since the first Autism Delaware Walk for Autism in 2007. Butterworth verifies each fundraising envelope, counts the funds and assists with the bank deposits. After seven years, Butterworth’s expertise is considered an essential resource.

“Many of our volunteers work behind the scenes,” said Teresa Avery, Autism Delaware executive director, “and their efforts are as important as our more visible volunteers at fundraising events. As a result, no job is more important than any other, because all the jobs help Autism Delaware move toward its mission. We at Autism Delaware are privileged to be able to rely on such passionate and talented volunteers.”

Autism Delaware’s programs and services are supported by state contracts and generous donations from individuals and corporations across Delaware. Fundraising helps provide the income needed to make critical programs a reality. For more information on how to help, visit autismdelaware.org.