Autism Speaks Announces "Autism Speaks Week," A Major, New Autism Awareness and Fundraising Initiative in South Florida

Weeklong Series of Events -- March 24-30, 2008 -- Will Include Multi-Part Television Series, Ride Now Motorcycle Fundraiser, Live Telethon, Online Auction And Mar-a-Lago Benefit Concert Featuring Singer/Songwriter Lionel Richie

PALM BEACH, FL (December 27, 2007) – Autism Speaks Co-Founders Bob and Suzanne Wright, joined by local parent/advocates, today announced an unprecedented South Florida autism awareness and fundraising initiative to take place during the last week in March (see photos from the conference here. Autism Speaks Week – March 24-30 -- will include a multi-part news series, broadcast on NBC stations WPTV and WTVJ and Miami's Telemundo 51, the ING DIRECT Ride Now South Florida fundraising motorcycle event, a live telethon, an online auction and a gala Concert for Autism Speaks featuring Lionel Richie at The Mar-a-Lago Club. According to the most recent Department of Education statistics, Florida ranks sixth in the United States in the number of children receiving services for autism.

“Autism is a national health crisis that is affecting families in every corner of this country, from Florida to Alaska,” said Bob Wright. “Autism Speaks Week will shine a spotlight on the struggles of South Florida families and inform people about what they can do to improve the lives of individuals with autism in their community.”

“Our hope is that this series of events will increase the level of understanding and acceptance,” added Suzanne Wright. “The money we raise will help Autism Speaks fund autism research and support community organizations here in South Florida and across the United States that provide critical services to children and adults with autism.”

Television News Series -- March 24 to 28

NBC stations WPTV in West Palm Beach, WTVJ in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Spanish language station Telemundo 51 will join forces to focus all of South Florida on the escalating numbers of people affected by autism. Throughout the week, the stations will carry both national and local stories focusing on South Florida residents during morning and evening newscasts.

Online Auction – March 24-28

An online auction event, sponsored by AT&T and accessed through the website of the three television stations, will allow the public to bid on a range of unique items and experiences, with all proceeds benefiting Autism Speaks. The auction items include:

  • Family entertainment, such as admissions to Disney World, Lion Country Safari and the Palm Beach Zoo and kids birthday parties at Rapids Water Park, Boomers and Miami Children's Museum;
  • Sporting events, including tickets to the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in Michigan, a spot in the NYC Marathon and tickets to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa;
  • Rounds of golf at leading private courses, including Trump International in Palm Beach;
  • Brunch for four at the exclusive Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach;
    Celebrity experiences with VIP seats and meet-and-greets at various concerts in South Florida;
  • Tickets for four in Channel 5's VIP box for a concert at Sound Advice Amphitheatre;
  • Memorabilia from some of South Florida's biggest stars;
  • Jewelry, including a Chopard watch valued at $6500, and a specially selected item by Ivanka Trump from her new jewelry line; 
  • A unique three-wheeled electric bike, called the BugE, signed by celebrities.

ING DIRECT Ride Now South Florida – Saturday, March 29

Starting from motorcycle dealerships across South Florida, thousands of bikers – many with friends or family members who have autism -- are expected to ride to Pompano Racetrack for a motorcycle vendor fair and music festival. Tickets for participants range from $30 to $150, with all proceeds benefiting Autism Speaks. Participants will be encouraged to ask friends, family and co-workers to support their efforts with donations. This event is part of the national Autism Speaks ING DIRECT Ride Now program, which will take place in eight cities in 2008 and has attracted more than 50,000 motorcyclists during its six-year history.

Telethon and Broadcast of “Autism Every Day” -- Saturday, March 29

On March 29 at 8 PM, WPTV will broadcast the critically acclaimed documentary "Autism Every Day," followed by a live telethon event from 9-11 PM originating from the WPTV studios and simulcast in the Miami market on WTVJ. Hosted by the anchor teams from both stations, the telethon – sponsored by AT&T -- will also include announcements of winning online auction bidders and a live auction of additional special items.

Concert for Autism Speaks featuring Lionel Richie – Sunday, March 30

Autism Speaks Week will culminate with the fourth Concert for Autism Speaks, to be held at The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. Headlined by legendary singer/songwriter Lionel Richie, the evening of entertainment will be emceed by NBC News' Tom Brokaw. Honorary co-chairs for the event are Billi and Bernie Marcus and Melania and Donald Trump. Bob and Suzanne Wright are the event chairs.

For information about all of the Autism Speaks Week events, as well as ticket information for the Concert for Autism Speaks, visit www.autismspeaks.org/southflorida. The Sun-Sentinel is the newspaper sponsor for Autism Speaks Week.

Last week, Autism Speaks announced more than $565,000 in funding for twenty-nine grants to help community organizations across the country – including two in South Florida -- expand existing programs and create new ones that show true innovation in providing services to improve and enrich the lives of individuals with autism. The University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (Jennifer Durocher, Ph.D.) received $20,000 to provide Haitian-Creole and Spanish-speaking families in South Florida with better access to basic information about autism through conferences and printed materials in their own language, as well as through Creole-speaking parent liaisons. In addition, Creole and Spanish-speaking individuals with autism in South Florida will gain access to augmentative communication devices programmed in their own language. The Autism Project of Palm Beach County (Pamela Minelli) was awarded a $25,000 grant for Project Lifesaver, providing technology that enables law enforcement officers in Palm Beach County to readily locate individuals with autism who wander and become lost.

This spring, South Florida will be the site of two Walk Now for Autism events – the signature fundraising events for Autism Speaks, which raise awareness about autism and funds for scientific research – in Miami–Dade (Sunday, February 10) and Palm Beach County (Sunday, March 2). For more information, visit www.walknowforautism.org.

ABOUT AUTISM
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.

ABOUT AUTISM SPEAKS
Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism, and to advocating for the needs of affected families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Vice Chairman, General Electric, and served as chief executive officer of NBC for more than twenty years. Autism Speaks has merged with both the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and Cure Autism Now (CAN), bringing together the nation's three leading autism advocacy organizations. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.