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MAKING A MARK: Nonprofit promotes inclusivity for people with autism

According to the CDC, nearly one in 54 children are on the autism spectrum. Autism Society, Tidewater Virginia is building a more accepting community.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Awareness, advocacy, and assuring quality of life--those are the goals of the Autism Society, Tidewater Virginia as they work to support people and families impacted by autism.

"We're really there to be the travel guide, so to speak, through all the resources because that is very daunting," said Chapter Operations Manager Nicole Miller.

"For 40 years, we have created a community of inclusivity where everyone is welcome-- whether you're a parent, caregiver, an individual on the spectrum-- and you can come and find individuals of like-mindedness," said Miller. "It's personal for us, too... I have a son on the spectrum who I really want to ensure that he has a great life."

The organization is helping with medical payments and awarding scholarships after taking a financial hit during the pandemic.

"We got none of the stimulus funds or anything. Zero dollars, 100 percent. We didn't take out any loans," said Miller. "The community just rallied around us."

Some major community support came in the form of fundraisers, like Maci's Ride for Autism-- where bikers raised about $7,000 last year. Tom Gorney holds the event in honor of his granddaughter.

"Seven years ago... Maci had just been diagnosed with autism, being on the spectrum," said Gorney. "The motorcycle community likes to have a reason to raise money and have fun, so we combined the two and this is what we ended up with... Last year was 183 bikes in a pandemic."

As a sense of normalcy returns, the Autism Society, Tidewater Virginia is looking ahead, finding more ways to promote acceptance and inclusivity.

"Increasing the number of hours and direct engagement with individuals on the autism spectrum is what is needed," said Miller. "There's an actual person behind that diagnosis, and that person deserves your love and respect just like they would give to you."

Autism Society, Tidewater Virginia and Families of Autistic Children in Tidewater are hosting a Jump Into Summer Family Fun Day on Saturday, June 26 at 12:30 p.m. at the Virginia Beach Friends School, 1537 Laskin Rd. To learn more, visit https://chapter.tidewaterasa.org/, check out the group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tidewaterasa, or call Nicole Miller at 757-461-4474.

The 7th Annual Maci's Ride is Sunday, June 27 at 9:00 a.m. in Virginia Beach. For more information, visit https://www.macisride.com/ or check out its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/macisride.