This post is by Lou Melgarejo, a married father of three whose eldest daughter Bianca has autism. In 2011 he started Lou’s Land, a blog from an Autism Dad’s perspective. A television director by trade, Lou used what he knew to create the autism awareness video “Fixing” Autism for which he received the “Speak Out” award from Autism Speaks for going above and beyond in raising autism awareness to the public through the media.
April is Autism Awareness Month and April 2nd marks the 8th annual World Autism Awareness Day as sanctioned by the United Nations. Autism is one of only three health issues recognized by the UN with its own day of awareness. On that day, Autism Speaks encourages the world to change their exterior lighting from white to blue in an effort to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder via the Light it Up Blue campaign.
My family has participated in LIUB the past two years. We started by getting our neighbors involved. As a family, we made a little newsletter with some information about autism and how it has impacted our family and included it in a goody bag (blue of course) with a blue light bulb from Home Depot. We loaded up the wagon and together my family went door to door on both sides of our cul-de-sac and handed out the gift bags to our neighbors. We introduced ourselves to the neighbors we hadn’t met previously and chatted with the neighbors we were friendly with. Those that were not home, we simply left the gift bag at their door.
When April 2nd came, my wife and I were touched as our friends from around the world took the time to take pictures of themselves wearing blue, posting that they were doing it in support of our daughter and tagging us in the pictures. We had no idea if our neighbors would support us, but I was working that night when the phone at my desk rang. My wife was calling. She was in tears and clearly overwhelmed. She had looked outside to discover that of all the houses that could Light it Up Blue for our daughter… all but one participated. (On a side note, we all have that ONE neighbor, don’t we?)
When I got home from work, I stopped my car in the middle of the street. I looked at both cul-de-sacs and sure enough the lights were still on and they were shining brightly. It was the first time I felt like our neighbors understood our challenges. It was so humbling and inspiring that I was left speechless. I remember lying in bed and staring at the ceiling with our blue lantern shining brightly in the window… and smiling.
Last year we followed up with a newsletter letting our neighbors know how Bianca was doing and
bragging sharing her progress while reminding them about April 2nd and Light it Up Blue. Again our neighbors answered the call…except that ONE neighbor.
This year I was afforded the opportunity to take my passion to another level as the Chair of Light it Up Blue Chicago. We were building off of some great momentum from the previous co-chairs and really felt like we could make a splash on the Chicago skyline in 2014. With the help of an AMAZING committee of dedicated people, we are going to see participation in Chicago more than DOUBLE the previous year with over 200 buildings and businesses helping us shine a light on autism. Among our notable participants, Willis Tower, John Hancock Center, Trump Tower, Water Tower Place, Board of Trade and the Blue Cross Blue Shield building will actually display in writing via lit and unlit windows “1 in 68” for all driving north up Lake Shore Drive and those in Millennium Park to see. We even have over 20 restaurants and business that are presenting “blue” themed offerings with proceeds going to Autism Speaks.
We have had great support from our public officials and we have received proclamations recognizing April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day from the surrounding communities as well as the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois. Mayor Rahm Emanuel even graciously taped a PSA for Autism Awareness Month and Light it Up Blue and the Illinois State Capitol will be blue for the whole month of April.
On April 2nd, we will be gathering at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park at 7:00 pm for our “Turn the Bean Blue” event, where we ask people to come dressed in blue, bring signs promoting autism awareness and gather together to watch our city’s skyline go blue. Then on April 26th, our amazing Autism Speaks to Young Professionals group will be hosting a fundraiser called “Illuminate” at Block 37.
Chicago has proven that it is indeed the “City of Broad Shoulders”. When it comes to raising autism awareness, Chicago is a second city to none. So thank you to the city of Chicago and all of the members on the committee as well as the Autism Speaks Chicago staff for their hard work and dedication. We will be seeing the fruit of our labor across the most beautiful skyline in the world.
And yes, we sent out a newsletter again to our neighbors reminding them of April 2nd and asking them to Light it Up Blue. We
gloated informed them that Bianca would finally be able to receive ABA therapy after my employer Comcast/NBC Universal voluntarily elected to provide meaningful autism benefits to their over 130,000 employees. I thanked my neighbors for their support, but also for their inspiration. Because if it wasn’t for their response two years ago, I don’t think I would be sitting as the Chair of Light it Up Blue Chicago.
Now if only I could get that ONE neighbor to participate…