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Central PA Walk kickoff and awards dinner a huge success

The 2015 Central PA Walk Now for Autism Speaks Kickoff and Awards Dinner held on Wednesday, August 19th brought out a record breaking 150 participants at the Bavarian Hall in Altoona. Rob Z from Hot 100 in Altoona, representing media sponsor Forever Media, Inc., served as our emcee for the evening, and Greater PA Executive Director Brett Spitale’s trusty fellow autism hero sidekick!

Guests began with a casual dinner of salad and sandwiches as Rob Z kicked off the evening, introducing Jennifer Hertzog and Renee Rimbeck, longtime Walk Co-Chairs for Central PA. Jen and Renee recognized all past and present committee members for helping the region to raise almost a half a million dollars in ten years. Catherine Hughes, Senior Coordinator for the Autism Speaks Pittsburgh Chapter, provided an overview of recent global and local happenings within the organization, noting in particular money that has come back to Western PA to support families and providers here and now – “your dollars at work!” 

The next part of the night focused on “Why We Walk”, including moving, motivating, and animated speeches by Megan DeGol of The DeGol Organization (proud sponsor, and team captain of Mia’s Minions), Lannette Johnston of Tyrone Regional Health Network (proud sponsor, and grant recipient for iPads to support programming at We CARE Therapy Services), Sydney Wilfong, proud sibling and walker for Team Harry (whose team last year raised a whopping $14,485!), and Helene Gardner (therapist at Home Nursing Agency, and proud mother).

Jennifer and Renee returned with Catherine to give out the 2014 Team Awards and to recognize our local and media Walk sponsors. Admittedly, the heartwarming and gorgeous self-proclaimed dancing princess Lizzy (who danced with her sister off and on all evening!) was a tough act to follow.

Brett Spitale offered closing remarks, reminding everyone why we need EVERYONE to Walk, and shared his story of why he Walks, fundraises, and serves Autism Speaks. He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket, a “faded wrinkled printout of an email from 3 years ago that has stains from (his) daughter’s Jolly Ranchers that (he) just can’t throw away,” that tells the story of Marion, a young girl who has found her voice thanks to an iPad which was granted to her by Autism Speaks. Once a non-verbal child severely impacted by the spectrum, she now attends regular classes, volunteers with her mother at her local bible chapel and at the restaurant where her mother is employed, and has an amazing sense of humor. He has shared this story hundreds of times and will probably share it “hundreds more.” All of the evenings’ memorable moments remind us all why we Walk, and how we can all further the mission of Autism Speaks and change the future for all who are affected by autism.

Let the countdown to Sunday, October 11th at People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona begin! Register today as a Walkere, or form a team – log onto Questions can be directed to the Autism Speaks Pittsburgh Chapter at 412-367-4571 or


The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.