WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? On behalf of the Board, fundraising committee, members, volunteers, and the entire West Georgia Autism Foundation, I would like to thank you for your participation at the Snow Ball. Your financial and other gifts were overwhelming. Checks are still coming in. Your response to this public and individual health condition showed that our community is ready and willing to address autism in a serious manner. You made it possible for the WGAF to surpass all goals for the Snow Ball. So, what happens now? The opportunities are endless. However, they are also prioritized. This month, the Board is going to meet to pass a budget. A small portion of the funds will go toward operating expenses. The bulk of the funds will be divided between the three functions of the WGAF; the awareness program, education program, and most importantly the financial support program for families with autistic children. 1. AWARENESS – While we have been working on awareness for over a year, we will continue this campaign. Awareness in the community is the foundation on which our other two programs rely. Widespread knowledge of the impact of autism in west Georgia is a prerequisite to fully engaging the issue. Awareness also unites our community and sparks interest to take that next step to learn about autism issues and to support people affected.
Some examples of our awareness program include public service announcements by members of the Friends of the Foundation, continuing to partner with our friends in the media to spread awareness, continue speaking to civic and other groups, and constantly keeping autism in the public discussion.
Awareness will be the least expensive program to run. Also, awareness naturally leads to the second program; Education.
2. EDUCATION – This program is inexpensive to administer as well. For our educational program, we are going to be focusing on erasing the stigma associated with autism and working with community organizations that have a desire to learn about autism related issues, and who might be searching for resources in this area. For example, the WGAF is partnering with law enforcement and first responders in learning how to handle situations when an autistic person is having a difficult experience.
3. FAMILY SUPPORT – This is the most important function of the WGAF. Families in our community are already requesting assistance for their children. The application process will begin in mid-spring. A vetting committee has been established so that we can be excellent stewards of your gifts. The vetting committee will receive the applications and make recommendations to the Board. The Board will vote on each applicant. Approved applicants will have payments made by the WGAF to service providers or reimburse individuals who have a valid invoice or receipt for a service. Approved families will be awarded financial support beginning in April (Autism Awareness Month).
4. OTHER OPPORTUNITIES – While the above represents the primary functions of the WGAF, other exciting opportunities have presented themselves and continue to do so. Some examples are:
a. Partnering with organizations like Autism Speaks, the Marcus Center, the University of West Georgia, and the medical community on special projects; b. Working with the west Georgia delegation to the General Assembly on autism related issues. (However, we do not officially lobby at this point); c. Obtaining grants for general and specific projects related to autism that directly affect our community; and d. Working with local companies in hiring autistic adults using the autism workforce model created by Hart, Schaffner, and Marx. For more information, go to www.autismworkforce.com. It is only because of you that the above changed from ideas and concerns to a reality. I am simply amazed at how generous and forward thinking our people continue to be. Thank you again for joining the ranks of “autism warriors.” Our challenge has just begun. Jason W. Swindle, Sr. #SwindleLawGroup #WGAF #autism