“Elmo should go back to Sesame Street, Mommy”, said my youngest child as he hunched down in his stroller, trying hard to avoid the wind whipping mercilessly around Lakewood BlueClaws stadium on that early April morning last year. Zach thought the lifesize Elmo running around greeting kids was lost, and wanted to help him find his way home.
It took some explaining for me and my mom to convince him that Elmo was fine, and we were indeed going to stay for the first of several POAC Autism Services walk-a-thons, held annually every spring.
After we calmed him down I had the opportunity to look around, and was excited to see that thousands of people from around the state were donating their money and their time, walking for a cause that perhaps has completely infiltrated their lives, and their hearts.
I know, due to the fact that I have two sons with autism, that it has done so with mine.
As my little family of three wove its way through the crowds I spent a few moments taking it all in, the people ensconced in boldly colored t-shirts proclaiming their love for someone on the spectrum, the vendors and sponsors with their brochures and enticing crafts for little hands. I could only imagine how much planning it took to create this day, what combined effort and expertise went into an event of such magnitude.
Every face I walked by seemed cheerful, from those hawking autism “accessories”, to those preventing an unhappy child from a meltdown in the stands. There was a palpable aura of peace here, of parents stripping away the confines of a sometimes harrowing existence, and simply reveling in a day, worldwide, about us.
In what seemed to be no time at all Zach conquered three moon bounces, a playground, and a multitude of crafts, and it was time for the exercise portion of the day to commence. Gary Weitzen, executive director of POAC, descended to the bottom of the stadium to address the crowds, and it seemed as if even those children and adults who were vocally stimming quieted a little, were loathe to miss a word.
He spoke of his gratitude to everyone who contributed both physically and financially today, to those who continue to underwrite an organization which is the largest provider of free autism trainings in the entire state. Gary cheerfully reminded the crowds of all that POAC Autism Services does for families who might otherwise have limited recourse to recreational activities, always for no cost.
At the conclusion of his speech we were free to walk, to continue to take steps in the right direction to help our children, our community, and our hearts.
I paused for another moment before we began the sole loop my family would participate in that day (a four-year-old has his limits with philanthropy), and as the sun slipped over an awning that had previously provided shade I was required to squint to take it all in, to view the masses moving in quiet solidarity around the circumference of the field. There were open spaces of course, but as I remained still, I noticed that slowly, steadily, they were being filled, as some teams lagged behind, and others proceeded at a quicker pace.
I knew if I stood there long enough I’d behold one great, cohesive circle of commitment, seamless in its synchronicity of volunteers, parents, children, teachers and therapists, all striving mightily to fill the gaps.
And filling the gaps is exactly what POAC has done so beautifully for well over a decade now, and I’m certain will continue to do so for many more to come.
Zach looked up at me impatiently, imploring me to return to the relative warmth of my car and take him home for lunch, and I conceded to his desires. I took one last look back from the threshold of the stadium, and was rewarded by a thinning of space, of the blankness between what has been offered to our children, and what should be provided to them.
I am so grateful this organization has stepped up to help erase those voids, so appreciative of all those who made it possible to be here today. Once again, we found ourselves a part of a community who cares.
And I was reminded anew of what Gary had so eloquently communicated to us all at the POAC Gala, a few weeks before, in his welcoming speech.
We are family, indeed.
If you are interested in participating in any of POAC's five walk-a-thons throughout the state, please see the link below: