Local support group promotes autism awareness

Kinette Club of Fort McMurray donates $2,500 to group

By DAWN BOOTH, Connect Weekly

Autism Awareness

Kirsti Mardell with her son Quentin, 5, and Corinna O’Hanley (front centre) joined with members of The Kinette Club of Fort McMurray to accept a donation for $2,500 for the Fort McMurray Autism Support Group on March 16. The local support group will be hosting community events to celebrate Autism Awareness Month. Photo by Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly

With next month soon approaching, the members of the Fort McMurray Autism Support Group (ASG) are getting ready to bring the community together to spread awareness and gain acceptance.

April is recognized as Autism Awareness Month. On a global-scale, autism organizations around the world celebrate the month with fundraising and awareness-raising events. Locally, ASG is inviting residents to join them for World Autism Day on April 2 for a free swim at MacDonald Island Park from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Kristi Mardell, whose five-year-old son is autistic, has been involved with the local ASG for three years. She explained the group hopes residents will join their families and children.

“We want the community to come out and swim with our children, as more awareness creates acceptance,” said Mardell.

Mardell has been volunteering with the ASG for three years. Spending two years as the External Relations Coordinator for the Autism Society Alberta (ASA), she explains how the local group had established a community partnership with ASA in 2014.

Previously the ASG was not listed as a registered charity or non-profit organization and the partnership now allows them to accept donations. In return, they are able to issue charitable tax receipts for donations.

Mardell said by ASG branching under the ASA, it has benefited the group in several ways, as the society is a province-wide network and collaborates families. The society also has a representative on the Board of Autism Society Canada to collaborate on national issues.

On March 16, The Kinette Club of Fort McMurray presented the ASG with a donation of $2,500. The Club invited ASG representatives Mardell and Corinna O’Hanley to accept a cheque during a meeting at the Salvation Army of Fort McMurray.

“We hosted our annual Family Day Toonie Swim and we voted on who we would like to donate the proceeds to and it was the Fort McMurray Autism Support Group,” said President of the Kinette Club of Fort McMurray Alana Mulhall at the cheque presentation.

The donation will help the ASG continue to host private functions for families in the ASG. Events held throughout the year include: spring and summer kids’ camp, movie nights, hay rides, and more. Mardell said the support is greatly appreciated, as it’s important for the families to get together.

“They like to get out to the events and are happy they are being put on,” she said. The ASG hosts monthly meetings for parents to gather. However, the participation in the family events have a higher attendance because it’s easier for everyone to get out altogether.

Mardell explained this is why the private Facebook page is helpful because it acts as an online support forum for parents and caregivers to discuss concerns, highlights and share questions with one another daily. (Search ‘Fort McMurray Autism Support Group’ on Facebook to join. It is a closed group for Fort McMurray families and health professionals affiliated with the ASG.)

According the ASG’s website, public health officials estimate that one in 68 children in Canada are growing up on the autism spectrum. To learn more about autism and the local support group, visit www.autismfortmcmurray.org.

-Connect Weekly-