Staff at the Carson Kolzig Foundation have a goal this holiday season to get 100 of the autistic children under their care sponsored by someone in the community.
Sponsoring a child costs $300 a year and helps pay for the services the foundation offers, said Kellee Balcom, the foundation's executive director. Officials estimate it can cost between $30,000 and $80,000 a year to care for an autistic child.
The nonprofit foundation currently has 15 children sponsored out of the more than 1,000 families it serves, Balcom said. It was started in 2004 by former NHL player and Americans co-owner Olie Kolzig and his wife, Christin.
Sponsoring a child alleviates financial stress and helps pay for staff who teach important socialization skills, Balcom said.
"We just love when groups are willing to sponsor our kids," Balcom said. "We are excited to try and bolster the sponsorship numbers and see if we can get 100 of those a year."
Also on the foundation's wish list this year are iPads and smartphones, which can help autistic kids start to verbally communicate with their families through special apps, Balcom said. She asks that people donate their old devices as they upgrade to new ones.
Christine Lindgren -- who directs the foundation's autism center in Kennewick -- has watched the technology open lines of communication in the families she works with, she said. Some kids who rarely talk with their families have started opening up through the apps.
"It is really an invaluable tool to help a child have a voice," Lindgren said. "There are specific apps we will train parents and teachers on to help them communicate. It can be life-changing."
The Kolzigs started the foundation after their son, Carson, was diagnosed with the developmental disorder, Balcom said. They wanted a foundation that could help families cope with the stress and financial burden.
Autism is a neurological brain disorder that can cause social, communication and behavioral changes, Balcom said. Many autistic kids learn differently and react differently in social settings. The foundation helps them overcome these limitations.
"They see the world a little differently," Lindgren said. "They often have sensory behaviors and social skills that are different. Some can be very sensitive to sound and others can be hyperactive."
The foundation offers numerous services, including autism screenings, behavior groups, social skills classes, parent support groups and activities for siblings, Balcom said. Classes are offered over the summer to help kids keep year-round social skills and a library is available at the autism center for families to learn more about the disorder.
The center was opened in 2010, when the foundation changed its status from from a private organization to a public nonprofit, Balcom said. The foundation has seen the number of families it serves increase by about 20 percent annually. Private donations help fund a majority of the foundation's services.
An annual golf tournament hosted by Kolzig and former Americans player Stu Barnes is the foundation's biggest fundraiser, Balcom said. Kolzig is currently a coach with the NHL's Washington Capitals and Barnes is a consultant for the Dallas Stars.
"Although we service almost all local kids, we have (financial) supporters all over the country because of Olie," Balcom said.
The foundation is also in need of gift cards to grocery, retail, and arts and crafts stores, Balcom said. The cards allow staff to set up specialized activities and throw parties for the children.
To donate to the Carson Kolzig Foundation call 509-396-9230, visit www.carsonkolzigfoundation.org or stop by the autism center at 4204 West 24th Avenue, Suite 101, during business hours. Foundation staff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; email@example.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson