More than 60 stores and restaurants in Westport and Fairfield today will be donating 10 percent of their gross sales to benefit Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization that promotes autism awareness, funds research, and works to garner support for those affected by autism.
The stores will display blue lights and donation cans -- the color of the national autism organization -- Wednesday, April 2.
The event has been designed to bring attention to what Allison Walmark, one of the coordinators of the project, called an international health crisis. According to Walmark, one in 50 school-age children are on the autism spectrum, and more children will be diagnosed this year with autism than children with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. Four times as many boys than girls are diagnosed with autism, she added.
To raise awareness, Walmark, along with Erica Acheychek, a Fairfield mother of an autistic child, and Walmark's friend Andi Sklar, put together the retail event for Autism Awareness Day.
Walmark is passionate about raising money for the autism group because she would like other children to have the benefits her son, Ethan, 8, has enjoyed in Westport. Autistic children are often bullied by other children in school, and even adults don't often understand the disorder, Walmark said.
Ethan, whose rendition of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" went viral last summer, has enjoyed the benefits of the Westport Public Schools and his mother would like to see all children on the autism spectrum have the same advantages.
"The Westport public schools have bent over backward for us," she said. "I want to make that the case for everybody."
The three women went door to door to retail outlets and restaurants, recruiting participation in Autism Awareness Day. Participants include clothing stores, jewelry stores, hair salons, a theater, toy stores, restaurants and car dealers, among other retail outlets.
All stores and restaurants are donating 10 percent, with the exception of car dealerships which are donating a minimum of $500 from the day's sales.
A concert also took place on March 22 at Westport's Toquet Hall, and two Westport jewelry stores, JL Rocks and Tulah Jem, have specially designed pieces they are selling to mark Autism Awareness Day.
In addition to raising money, Autism Awareness Day also helps the public learn more about the disorder which is as important as the financial benefits, Walmark said.
"It opens the door to explain what autism is," she said.
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/1468657236689066.
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