Island Autism Group needs help

Group looks for Island assistance to win Newman funds.

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Shamere and Shanoiya Coke ham it up for the camera with Luke Bettencourt, the afterschool coordinator for Island Autism Group. The group is looking to win the Newman Challenge to raise money for its afterschool program.

The grassroots Island Autism Group (IAG) has a tasty fundraising opportunity over the next month, courtesy of Newman’s Own Holiday Challenge. IAG chairman Kate DeVane is asking Island residents for contributions before Jan. 4 in a crowdfunding effort that could net the Island Autism Group an additional $150,000 from actor Paul Newman’s Newman Foundation.

Contributors may go to CrowdRise at bit.ly/Newmancontest to pledge to the effort. Ms. DeVane said she believes IAG is the only Island organization selected to compete in the national fundraising effort.

The $150,000 grand prize would help IAG fund its new afterschool program for three years, and tie that program to its ongoing summer program efforts.

“The competition is stiff from all over the country but we are confident our Island spirit is up to the Challenge,” Ms. DeVane said.

By press time, the Giving Tuesday effort had raised $3,200. Ms. DeVane said her group is working with Island groups and philanthropies to raise money for the month-long effort.

IAG began 10 years ago when Ms. DeVane, who has a 13-year-old son with autism, and another parent of a child with autism began an effort to provide support and services to the autism community on-Island. “We started with two parents working with the school system to fund iPads and communication devices for autistic kids,” she said. Ms. DeVane estimated that about 50 school-age children with autism live on the Island, “and there are more, younger kids with autism who are not yet in school or are beyond school age,” she said.

The IAG hopes to form a summer camp program similar to a project already funded by Newman’s Own called SeriousFun Camps. The group hopes this local camp would not only attract Island kids but also summer residents and visitors who may have someone with autism in their family. Ms. DeVane said the IAG already gets numerous calls from parents each summer. 

“We are supporting people with autism from early childhood through the various stages of life. From leisure and school activities to job training, so these kids can enjoy successful, fulfilling lives,” she said.

The bootstrapping IAG members, about 30 volunteers strong, have been borrowing spaces for afterschool programs, and have partnered with the YMCA, Rising Tide, and the West Tisbury School, which provide services and space. Ms. DeVane is the landscape coordinator for Donaroma Nurseries and Landscape Services in Edgartown. Vice chairman Kevin McGrath is the librarian at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

The swimming program at the Y is a particular benefit to people with autism, Ms. DeVane said. “Drowning is the most common form of death for people with autism,” she said. “It would be cool if everybody gave what they could online. We have no administrative costs. If we could win, we could get space and run the afterschool program for three years.”

For more information about the Island Autism Group, visit islandautism.org