Third annual race and walk to benefit Preschool Learning Center
To that end, the Kiwanis Club of Springville organized the Autism Awareness 5K and Family Fun Walk three years ago, which was renamed in honor of the late Christine Padasak, a former PLC worker, last year. This year, the third annual event will be held at the PLC on Aug. 11, starting at 9:30 a.m.
The event was started to raise money for the PLC in honor of autism awareness, and came about after the Kiwanis was looking for a summer project to support.
Joe Wolniewicz, Kiwanis member and race organizer, explained, “Another [event] we had done had fallen by the wayside, so we wanted something to replace it. An Eagle Scout, Jason Forshee, needed a project, so this was chosen. It was not originally intended as a fundraiser, but to raise awareness of autism and the particular needs of those children.”
The first event saw approximately 100 runners and 100 walkers, a number which has remained more or less consistent, over the years.
The race raised $15,000 the first year. Last year, $21,000 was collected. This year, the committee has set the bar at $30,000. All proceeds are directed to support the PLC’s operations.
Dr. Gerry Guild, director of the PLC, said that, although the center has only four classrooms for ASD students, out of 12 in total, those students require the most complex services and staff resources. The center serves approximately 120 students in-house and an additional number with Early Intervention services, outside of the building.
“Part of our organizational mission is to expand that awareness,” Guild said. “There is an increasing percentage of the population being identified as on the autism spectrum. The needs for children on that spectrum are vastly different than others. In those two classrooms [for ASD students] we have six children with six aides and a teacher. In a typical classroom, we might have 12 kids, one teacher and two – three aides. It’s very staff-intensive, but we’re only getting tuition for six kids. In terms of the resources needed, it’s a lot more intense,” he said.
Guild explained that teachers working with ASD students need different, focused training to become what he called “skilled behaviorists,” as well as talented teachers, in other areas.
The PLC serves a fixed number of ASD students, which is capped at 30, and the center is always at capacity, if not at the beginning of the school year, then soon thereafter.
“That is not the case in the rest of the building,” Guild noted. “One of our challenges is that the area we are drawing from is a shrinking population and we are operating under reduced funding. It’s a struggle. We have to be proactive. Our tuition used to be enough to cover our costs, but the state has not increased our reimbursement rate; that has been frozen for years.”
Guild noted that fundraisers like the memorial run and walk and the recent Night Under the Stars fundraiser held at the PLC help provide the funds needed to help the center perform its services for the community.
“It’s so important [to raise awareness]. We have three main objectives: to make the program so good that it’s well-known in the community, to add the resources to do what we need to do and to let people know about the school,” Guild continued. “We pull students from 39 school districts in three counties and some of our students come from up to 50 miles away, so there are only a handful of them that come from Springville. Not a lot of individuals in town are aware of us.
“Unfortunately, there’s a need for our services. No one wants to have a child that needs us, but we also want to create that sense of being part of a larger community. Because we serve birth to age 7, the vast majority of our parents are young and not well-established. After they leave us, we become a distant memory. Because of our geographic location, the PLC does not tap into the deep pockets up north, in places like Williamsville and that area.”
Wolniewicz said that the Springville area is fortunate to have the PLC. “It’s unusual for a town our size to have the resources like the PLC. It’s impressive and it’s unique. I think about these kids, no older than 7, getting on a bus and driving 50 miles to get here, but the need isn’t met any other way. Early intervention, when the brain is at the most formative stage before it’s fully formed, is so important. We’re really fortunate to have that resource.”
He noted that the Kiwanis Club decided on a run and walk, with associated pancake breakfast and kids’ activities, in order to include as many participants as possible.
He noted that most of the event’s revenue comes from the walk, since walkers make a voluntary donation to participate.
“There’s a lot of latent need because [having a child on the autism spectrum] is a difficult situation. It’s a long-term process. A lot of grandparents, aunts and uncles wish they could do something to help and this is a way to do that. It allows people to contribute to the school in a really meaningful way,” he said. “When people come to this event, it increases people’s positive feelings toward the school.”
Dave Guadagna, Kiwanis member and organizer, said that local restaurants are helping out with the pancake breakfast, to be held after the race. Those include Kiril’s, Cozy Corner, Apple Dumplin’, Papa Jake’s and Julie’s.
“They are helping with donations, food and staffing. It makes it a lot easier for us,” Guadagna said.
This year, the committee has added an online registration option, according to organizer Mike Pendl.
“The first year, we didn’t have any online registration, but now we got on the bandwagon ... People can sign up, create a team website, solicit donations and customize it. This allows people to send out as many donation requests as possible, to really get the word out,” Pendl explained.
Guild said the committee decided to get the event online in order to utilize the resources currently available. “It’s an Internet-based world we’re living in. The Internet is huge, as is social media. We’d be missing the boat if we did not hop on the bandwagon. The tool has incredible capacity and we have to maximize it.”
Pendl said his goal for the event is to “Tap into the potential in the community.
We in Kiwanis have been asking local businesses for support right along, but we ... would love to have businesses encourage their employees to form a team and get behind the school,” he said. “We’d like to move in that direction, rather than just getting financial support. We want people to learn about the school and see the opportunities they offer, firsthand.”
Pendl said that his own family, which has a son on the autism spectrum, is the “greatest example of not knowing what we had until we had Charlie. Most people don’t know, because you wouldn’t go looking for it if you didn’t need those services.”
The Christine Padasak Memorial Autism Awareness 5K and Fun Walk will take place on Aug. 11 with the race’s starting at 9:30 a.m. and the walk’s beginning shortly thereafter. A pancake breakfast and activities will follow.
For registration and more information, visit preschoollearningcenter.org or www.plc5k.kintera.org.