Each year we bring together chapter leaders for our CAN National Leadership Conference. This event provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the previous year's accomplishments, express our gratitude for the continued efforts of our volunteers and get excited as we roll out our plans for the new year. Earlier this month, a record 102 volunteer leaders braved the unusual cold weather in Southern California to attend the three-day conference in Manhattan Beach. Attendees and presenters agreed, this year's conference was our best yet!
The conference began early this year with Chapter Presidents and WALK NOW Chair meetings all day Friday. Following the meetings, Cure Autism Now President & CEO Peter Bell, along with his wife Liz, opened their home to host a welcome reception for all attendees. The evening was lovely and provided a great atmosphere for everyone to mingle and relax. Saturday morning, Peter Bell and Mark Roithmayr, President of Autism Speaks, presented their vision for the future combined organization. The enthusiasm and support of this merger and its implications for those impacted by autism were met with standing applause. Following informative breakout sessions in the afternoon, Saturday evening was a time for celebration! We recognized all that we have accomplished in the past year and acknowledged a few of the outstanding achievements of 2006.
This year the Star Award for the Outstanding Special Event was presented to the Chicago Ride Now team of Diane Gedik, Laura Quinley, Jennifer Stary and Leo Tavolacci who launched the Ride Now program four years ago. Raising $100,000 every year, their 110-mile motorcycle ride and after ride party is not only a blast for all who participate, it has also inspired others to bring Ride Now to their cities.
Cure Autism Now has certainly been blessed with a dedicated group of volunteers; many who have been involved with CAN for a number of years and have made their mark on the organization. Each year we present the Founder's Award to two people who represent the commitment and dedication of our founders – Jon Shestack and Portia Iversen. This year's recipients were Karen Beveridge and Doug Fischer.
Karen is President of the Washington DC Chapter, which raised over $1 million dollars in 2006. In addition, she and her husband Peter have held a Triathalon for the past 5 years which have raised over $750,000. Her dry wit, dedication, and willingness to help out in any way are just a few of the reasons why we wanted to honor her this year.
Doug Fischer is the former Chapter President and Ride Now Chair of the Philadelphia Chapter. In the past two years Doug has planned more chapter meetings and events than any other chapter leader. Doug, along with his wife Maureen, leave no stone unturned or person unaware of Cure Autism Now and the local Philadelphia chapter.
We are also fortunate each year to find new people who make their mark as well. In the last year or two we have seen what a difference Charles Napier has made in Las Vegas, Ann Marie Arcadi and Judith Ursitti have made in Dallas, and Diane Vitto and Patty Roberts have made in Orange County. And we look forward to reporting on the differences that our new Chapter Leaders will bring for 2007!
This year we were proud to present the award for Outstanding Rookie Volunteer to Karen Thompson from the Orlando Chapter. Karen has served as both the Chapter President and Walk Chair since the inception of the Orlando chapter in 2005.
The Phoenix Committee, represented by Neil and Lynn Balter, earned the Outstanding Rookie Walk of the Year, by hosting over 2400 participants and raising over $327,000 at their first Walk event in November.
This year's Outstanding Rookie Chapter was awarded to the Dallas/Ft. Worth Chapter. This chapter hosted their first WALK NOW event within five months from inception, activated an amazing group of leaders, and were at the epicenter of the Combating Autism Act. Accepting for the chapter was Chapter President Ann Marie Arcadi, Walk Chair Judith Ursitti, Meeting Coordinator Rashelle Barton, Special Events Coordinator Joey Barton, and our national Corporate Sponsor Chair April Prichard.
The Achievement Award for Outstanding Walk was once again awarded to the Los Angeles Chapter. This year the L.A. event hosted a record breaking 107 Resource Fair vendors and was the first WALK NOW event to raise over $1 million. Accepting for the LA Walk Committee was Walk Chair Priscilla Picard, Chapter President Phillip Hain, Former Walk Chair Eva Woodsmall, Committee members Amy and Stan Landes, Helen Motokane, Sonia Dickson-Bracks, Megan Browne, Mark Woodsmall and Kelly Alston.
The final award of the evening was presented to two chapters. The first chapter took community outreach to a new level this year. They hosted a record 33 events, sent out 17 chapter emails, hosted their first ever Ride Now event and raised over $800,000. Accepting the 2006 President's Cup for Outstanding Chapter were Doug Fischer, Bob Stirling, Kathy Tomzcak, Cynthia Day, and Stacey Fliegelman for the Philadelphia Chapter.
The Presidents Cup for Outstanding Chapter award was also presented to the Chicago Chapter. This is the second time that the Chicago Chapter has been recognized for the strength and contributions to Cure Autism Now. They have the highest number of chapter members and raised a record $1,487,000 dollars in 2006. Accepting for the Chicago Chapter were Nikkie Brach, Jon and Tricia Brouwers, Agatha DeFranco, Carrie Gasik, Diane Gedik, Lee and Teri Jorwic, Stacie McManus, Laura Quinley, Mary and Marco Rios, Jennifer Stary, Teri Steinberg, and Kim Wolf.
Overall, it was a fantastic weekend for Cure Autism Now. Not only did we have a chance to catch up with friends from across the country, but now we have an even stronger and renewed commitment to help unlock the keys to autism.