Inclement weather won’t stop Autism Speaks forces
Walk at Sonoma Mountain Village represents all of North Bay
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By Natalie Gray  April 4, 2014 12:00 am

No doubt the rain is making most look out the window, consider the gray sky, cold air and dreary state of the weather and thus decide to stay inside planted on the couch or kitchen table. But that hardly seems like much fun, and it certainly doesn’t shout community involvement or togetherness.

And for anyone still longing for that sense of community or perhaps a nice way to contribute to your favorite charity and not even the weather can break you of that spirit, there is the annual Walk Now For Autism Speaks.

“It’s an opportunity for the community to come together,” said Heather Jackson, Senior Coordinator of Northern California Autism Speaks, “and realize we are all connected by autism….it’s happening rain or shine.”


Largest fundraiser

This year’s Walk Now is happening Saturday, April 12, at the Sonoma Mountain Village and, yes, the event is happening no matter what kind of weather. This walk-a-thon is the largest fundraiser for Autism Speaks, with more than 90 different walks taking place nationwide, said Jackson. The walk that’s taking place in Rohnert Park represents the North Bay Area, but Jackson said she expects participants to be many and from farther and wider than the event’s title would suggest.

“We have a lot of families in Napa who want to participate,” Jackson said. “We even have some coming from as far as Eureka. It’s called the North Bay Walk, but really it’s more like Northern California.”

Families, Jackson suggests, are drawn to the event because of what the walk suggests and earns, and what the event allows for the children and parents alike. The event features a short, simple mile-long walk that was carefully selected to be accessible by children and parents of any age. Walkers, whether participating individually or as part of a team, raise money to sponsor their walk, and in turn that money is donated to the Autism Speaks organization. Donations by non-walkers are, of course, always gratefully accepted as well.


Autistic children benefit

According to Jackson, the funds raised by the event benefit children with autism and their families, like researching the cause of autism, a proposed insurance reform, family services and teaching courses for autistic children, such as swimming.

A large sum of the money will also go towards helping programs that raise awareness of autism. One in 68 children are born with autism, and scientist are still not sure as to a cause, said Jackson. According to Jackson, individuals who raise $150 or more are awarded with an event t-shirt, and those who raise $1,000 or more are awarded with a special breakfast and personal ‘thank you’ from the organization.

Of course, there is more to the event than the walk and raising money. Jackson promised bounce houses for children, games, vendors, live music and, for the first time this year, food trucks serving gourmet pizza and hot dogs. The Golden Gate Garrison, a unit of the non-profit 501st Legion will also be at the event, dressed as popular “Star Wars” characters to entertain the children. There will be something to do for every child, parent, grandparent and friend, and that might just be the best part of the event.


Learning to express themselves

“There’s a misconception that autistic children don’t like being around other people and that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said Jackson, relating that because autistic children often have poor social skills, they are not sure how to express themselves around others. “This event is a very safe environment for families to be in. No one has to worry about what their child is going to do, because everyone’s child does the same thing.”

The official World Autism Awareness Day was on April 2, but the Walk Now For Autism Speaks is on April 12 at the Sonoma Mountain Village, 1400 Valley House Dr. in Rohnert Park. Registration opens at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10:30 a.m. According to Jackson, everyone and anyone is invited to participate in the event, whether you have an autistic child or not.  If you would like to participate in the walk, you are asked to register for the event. The event and walk are totally free, but donations are very much appreciated to help support Autism Speaks and the families it serves.

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