Autism Delaware has named the grand marshals for the 2022 Walk for Autism.
One is a preschooler, the other a working adult. Both have autism spectrum disorder, and they exemplify the agency’s full scope of services across the age spectrum.
Aven Foskey of Bridgeville is 3 years old and was diagnosed with autism last year. As the grand marshal for the Saturday, Oct. 15 Walk for Autism at Hudson Fields in Milton, Aven will kick off the event with parents Tanielle and Chris by his side. This will be the second year the Foskeys’ team, Aven’s Journey, has participated.
Tony Graci of Delaware City is 29 years old and a participant in Autism Delaware’s adult vocational program, Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation, aka POW&R. As the grand marshal for the Walk for Autism at Fort DuPont in Delaware City Saturday, Oct. 8, Tony will be joined by his parents Mike and Jane, along with a host of Tony’s Team supporters. The Gracis have been part of the walk since its inception 15 years ago.
The Foskeys’ participation in last year’s walk at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes was another step in a journey to raise awareness and educate people about autism. “We took Aven’s autism in stride and never saw it as a disability, just a different way of relating to the world,” said dad Chris. He said they were surprised by expressions of sympathy and other negative responses from people with whom they shared the news, and they decided to commit to autism advocacy and education. Tanielle started a Facebook page called Aven’s Journey, and the couple put together kickball tournaments as fundraising and awareness events. They now have a league of 16 teams and are shooting for 32 next year.
Tanielle and Chris already had a strong group of supporters in place when they first came to the Walk for Autism, which they saw as another opportunity to spread the awareness message and raise funds at the same time. They eventually connected with Tomara Williams, an Autism Delaware family navigator serving Sussex County, and she helped them transfer Aven from a difficult school situation to the pre-K Delaware Autism Program at the Sussex Consortium.
“The Foskeys are a great example of how the walk is not just a one-day fundraising event,” said Kris Grant, walk manager. “It’s a community resource fair where participants can learn how they can benefit from the full range of our services.”
The Gracis, on the other hand, are veterans of Autism Delaware’s programs and services. After moving to Delaware in 2001 with three children including an 8-year-old with autism, they became involved with Autism Delaware almost immediately. They enrolled Tony in the Delaware Autism Program at the Brennan School in Newark, and he graduated from Newark High.
Tony went on to become one of the first participants in Autism Delaware’s POW&R program, and today he works at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, where he is a vital part of the cleaning crew. He has been with Nemours almost three years and worked all through the pandemic, managing to stay COVID-free.
Every morning, dad Mike said, “Tony walks out of the house with a smile on his face, saying he is going to ‘help the people out, destroy the germs and have some fun.’ That engagement is so critical to his overall ability to thrive.”
“That’s why we do all we can for Autism Delaware,” said Mike. “That’s the value of supporting these programs. It’s just so necessary. There is a whole community of people who can benefit from what Autism Delaware does. We are just scratching the surface.”