Two businesses want to help Tri-City autistic children and their families get the services and support they need.
Action Auto Services of Pasco and Riverstone Residential, a property management company, are raising money to support a local foundation that helps families with autistic children.
For two Riverstone Residential apartment complex managers, autism affects a loved one.
And at Action Auto Services, the Carson Kolzig Foundation is the first on a list of charities the business hopes to help this year. The foundation was formed by former pro hockey player and Tri-City Americans co-owner Olie Kolzig, whose son is autistic.
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The joint effort started when Mike Levin, marketing manager for Action Auto Services, started reflecting on a toy drive both companies held in December for Salvation Army's Angel Tree that collected more than 2,500 toys.
"Why do we have to wait for Christmas?" he asked.
So he got permission from Action Auto Services owner Randy Dickenson to hold fundraisers for charities throughout the year. Service is an important value of their business, which includes a body shop, an auction yard and Action Towing, Levin said.
Meanwhile, Shannon Grant, manager of Kennewick's Heatherstone Apartments, and Heather Lowry, manager of Richland's Washington Square Apartments, were thinking along similar lines. Both are owned by Riverstone Residential and receive services from Action Towing.
Grant said that she and best friend Lowry had been thinking about what they could do for the community since attending the Women Helping Women seminar last year.
Grant suggested Riverstone and Action Auto partner again to raise money for the Carson Kolzig Foundation, which provides services such as autism testing, therapy, resources and support groups. It also operates the Responding to Autism Center in Kennewick, which the foundation and Responding to Autism Services opened in April.
Grant said it's a cause that hits home because Lowry's son has autism.
Lowry discovered the foundation when it opened the Kennewick resource center. It arranges things such as classes and parent nights, at which parents of autistic children can connect and help each other cope. She said that has been a great help, because when her son developed autism several years ago, she was "running blind."
Autism covers a wide spectrum, with some children who are slightly affected up to others who are nonverbal.
Parents whose children are autistic often aren't sure what to look for and how to start finding help, Lowry said. The foundation helps with that.
Grant said she'd love to raise $5,000 for the foundation, but Levin wants to shoot for $80,000 or more.
Levin is making a list of other area charities that Action Auto Services plans to help this year. Those include Second Harvest, which acts as a food bank to area food banks, the Domestic Violence Services of Benton & Franklin Counties shelter, and a program at Pasco's Faith Assembly Church that sends disadvantaged children to summer camp.
Action Auto Services will donate a car to the Carson Kolzig Foundation for a fundraiser, Levin said. That, and a dinner with the proceeds to go to the foundation, are still in the works.
All of the money will go directly to helping provide services for families who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford them, said Kellee Balcom, foundation executive director.
Services for a child with autism can cost from $30,000 to $80,000 per year, Balcom said. And because the disorder is not recognized as a medical condition, the entire burden falls on families.
Even with the center offering services at a reduced rate, Balcom said it had more requests for scholarships last year than expected. She said they provided $80,000 to $100,000 in scholarships and low-cost and free programs to Tri-City families last year.
Balcom said they believe about 1 in 100 children in the Tri-Cities have autism, which is the national statistic. Boys are more frequently diagnosed.
Last year, the center served 539 families in seven programs, Balcom said. It provided more than 2,000 hours of direct services.
With increased support, Balcom said the center plans more services in 2011, including bringing University of Washington professionals to provide education for families, increasing the number of social skills groups for children and providing some services in Spanish.
Lowry hopes fundraising for the foundation will help more people understand autism and help other parents find the foundation.
"They don't have to feel like they are helpless," she said. "There are resources available."
Donations can be made on the center's website at www.respondingtoautism.net/Center.html.
On the left side of the page where it says online payments, click the arrow and choose either Shannon's Slap Shots or Heather's Hat Tricks. The two are competing to see who can raise the most for the foundation.
For more information, contact Mike Levin at 545-1230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com