Olie & Stu's Desert Bash begins Sunday

Tri-City HeraldJuly 20, 2013 

The Responding to Autism Center has helped nearly 1,000 families a year since it opened its doors in Kennewick in March 2010.

If not for the annual Olie & Stu’s Desert Bash charity golf tournament, many of those families would not be able to get the help they need for their children.

“The support from the community is amazing,” said center director Christine Lindgren. “There are so many families in need. Since a lot of services are not covered by insurance, the money helped open the center and fees are on a sliding scale. We serve kids as young as 18 months through adulthood. We not only serve the child or adult, but we have programs for parents, siblings and teachers.”

The Bash kicks off its 13th edition this weekend, with a round of golf and the charity action today and the second round of golf Monday at Meadow Springs Country Club in Richland.

The event has a different twist to it this year. Instead of a couple dozen pro athletes coming to town and pairing with local teams, the celebrities this year include Bash co-founders Olie Kolzig and Stu Barnes and Montreal Canadiens starting goaltender Carey Price.

All three played for the Tri-City Americans during their junior careers, and Kolzig and Barnes had long and successful NHL careers. Along the way, they also bought the Americans in 2005 to keep their former team in its rightful place.

“It something we have talked about the last few years,” Kolzig said of paring down the celebrity list. “It was more of a party and get together to raise some money. The cause meant more when we opened the foundation. The expenses kept going up and up and at the end of the day, it’s about raising funds so the charity is the real benefactor. As a tournament host and organizer, it cuts down on flights and hotels. It’s a bummer for the guys who came every year. They are great personalities and they were entertaining.”

The money raised through the Bash — which has been more than $1.5 million over the years — goes to the Carson Kolzig Foundation, whose primary services are delivered through the Responding to Autism Center.

Sid and Laurie Sarver of Richland have relied on the center since it opened, and said their son Jacob — and their entire family — have benefited greatly from its services.

“We were there the day they cut the ribbon,” Laurie Sarver said. “Without the donations, the center would not be able to function. Some families rely on the scholarships they offer to attend the center.”

Kolzig, whose son Carson, 12, is autistic, knows the frustrations the families are going through. He also knows the cost of therapy and other programs, which is why the program means so much to him.

“Most autism treatments and therapies aren’t covered by insurance, and they can run $75,000 to $100,000 a year,” Kolzig said. “And that’s provided you can get in. We have one of the best autism centers in the Northwest. People who attend the Bash will know someone who is affected by autism. One thing we are going to try and promote is a sponsorship. We are going to try and get 100 people to donate or sponsor a family for $25 a month. We know times are tough and people are holding their wallets closer to their vest, but this is something that will not break the bank.”

Laurie Sarver said Jacob, 8, is very high functioning, very verbal and goes to Badger Mountain Elementary School.

“His main issue is anxiety, he likes to be in control,” said Laurie, who is an English teacher at Southridge High School. “He is in a main stream classroom most of the day. Part of his day, they work on social skills to help him be more successful in the regular classroom. Without the help he has gotten at the center, he would not be where he is in the regular classroom.”

Though Jacob was diagnosed before the Responding to Autism Center opened, Laurie Sarver said many families have been able to get answers where before there were none.

“It is pretty scary when you are walking in the dark,” Laurie said. “What the center provides is a home base, a safe haven. It’s the only place in town that offers screenings. You can get a decision and that has opened the door for a lot of people.

“Once you get over the devastation, there is no cookie-cutter set of interventions. They have workshops from anxiety and how to communicate with your child. They have a lot of resources. We are really blessed to have the center in our community.”

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