On Saturday, April 14, Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, Sigma Kappa Sorority, Alpha Phi Fraternity and Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity presented the fourth annual Autism Speaks U 5K race and family fun day at University of Maryland. Fittingly, the event was held during National Autism Awareness month. The race raised $20,157 from donations.
Christina Markish, a history graduate student at George Mason University, helps students organize Autism Speaks U events in the Washington metropolitan area. She first became involved with Autism Speaks when she interned for the organization three years ago at their D.C. office. What attracted her to work for the cause was her autistic niece.
“Our mission is to change the future for all who struggle with autism spectrum disorders,” Markish said of the Autism Speaks organization. “Autism Speaks U is all over college campuses, and it is great that there is an event put on here at Maryland.”
Pascal Bloch, a sophomore computer science major, was the chair of organizing this year’s Autism Speaks U 5K race event. He said that the event was first held at Maryland in 2009. That year, Sigma Phi Epsilon got into contact with Autism Speaks U, a program aimed at college students to raise awareness for Autism Speaks, one of the nation’s largest autism advocacy organizations.
Since 2009, Sigma Kappa, Alpha Phi, and Delta Sigma Phi have decided to join in organizing an annual 5K race at Maryland.
But unlike the past Maryland Autism Speaks U events, this year there was an emphasis on “family fun.”
“My favorite part was the activities we put up for the children this year,” Bloch said.
Junior early childhood education major Erica Stern is Sigma Kappa’s captain for the event. She has been working on organizing it since September. As a member of the organizational committee, meetings were held on how to spread awareness on campus as well as how to improve it from last year.
“This is the first year we have done family fun day,” Stern said. “We have so many different activities for the kids – face painting, decorating, puzzle piece coloring, mini golf. Last year there were a few comments that the course wasn’t handicap accessible, so this year there is games section that is handicap-friendly.”
The family fun day idea appeared to be a success. While adults and students were running, the children participated in activities of their own.
Anne Klein has volunteered at various Autism Speaks events in Potomac, Maryland. She first heard of Autism Speaks through a newspaper advertisement. She has been participating in the organization’s events for the last three years since finding out about it.
Klein is the mother of a daughter with high-functioning autism. She decided to go to Maryland’s Autism U event after hearing that there would be activities for her children.
“I really like that it is family oriented. It is a lovely event because there are not a lot of things I can take her [Klein’s daughter] to. It’s nice that there is a run for the adults, and things for the children,” Klein said.