RF team earns autism group’s top-fundraiser titleThe Cruisin’ for Carter team honors a little boy in River Falls and raises big funds in many ways for the nonprofit Autism Speaks for its annual walk. Pictured is the 2010 team; front row left to right (kids plus kneeling adults): Averie Turner, Maya Woodwick, Cody Olson, Maddie Bond, Carter Olson, Jack Bond, Kerri Olson, Lara Chaffee and Angie Bond. Back row left to right: Andrea Chaffee, Craig Olson, Ron Weishaar, Cathy Olson, Karen Olson, Wendy Turner, Jeff Olson, Linda Weishaar, Jean Olson, Jess Weishaar, Jesse Bond, Mark Olson, Barb Turner and Luke Chaffee. Submitted photo
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
For the past two years, the River Falls-based Cruisin’ for Carter team has earned the title of No. 1 fundraising group of the Walk Now for Autism event, held to benefit the nonprofit organization Autism Speaks of Minnesota.
The team’s enthusiasm springs from its love and support of Carter Olson, a 10-year-old River Falls boy who has autism.
In 2009, the walk team raised $8,361. In 2010, its collective total came to $10,867.
After Carter’s diagnosis in 2005 -- a day his mom Kerri Olson says she’ll never forget -- the family found few resources other than Autism Speaks. Among the helpful information they received was a booklet called “The First 100 Days,” aimed at helping the family know what to expect and what to do next.
“Autism Speaks gave us the guidance afterwards,” she said.
Olson, along with family members Andrea Chaffee and Angie Bond, explain why it is important to raise funds for the organization and awareness about autism.
Chaffee said she does it as a way of showing support to Carter and his parents. She said the fundraising activities give the family something fun and constructive to do together plus fosters better understanding of the disorder.
She said, “When you see a kid in the grocery store throwing a ‘tantrum,’ they might have autism.”
“For me,” said Bond, “it’s just to support all the things Carter seems to benefit from.”
Olson says she happily supports Autism Speaks since it does so much for the families affected by the disorder. She said before Carter’s diagnosis, she and husband Jeff felt like they were always telling their son “no” and that some things could be a real battle.
Carter’s mom said the process to diagnose him was long, anxious and uncertain. She remembers exhausting days and batteries of tests.
“We waited about a year,” she said about getting a definite diagnosis.
Though he’d had some speech therapy at a young age, the suggestion to have him tested for autism didn’t come until Carter entered kindergarten at Rocky Branch. Olson said her son has had tremendous support from the school.
After the diagnosis, Autism Speaks helped the family learn a better way of communicating with their son and learning his needs, “We quit fighting Carter,” said his mom.
For example, it helps for him to know what’s happening next, so loved ones always tell him the agenda and usually repeat it a few times. He also really likes to have or carry a snack of juice and popcorn.
The family says most everyone learned that it’s important to treat autistic kids normally.
Chaffee said about the family’s local Walk Now team, “We have about 25-30 people on the team,” adding that the team does most fundraising in River Falls.
Besides walk pledges, the family organizes an annual bowl-a-rama at St. Croix Lanes. Chaffee explained that the whole alley is available for people to play.
“We call it bowling for spare change,” she said, adding that for example, people drop a quarter in the can if they get a strike and various coins for other actions.
“Carter loves bowling,” said Bond, who was one of many to see him do well in an environment that would normally overwhelm him.
The women say the event includes a big silent auction, to which the family as well as individuals and businesses donate items. Olson said she can’t say “thank you” enough to the generous people and businesses, especially her employer, River Falls State Bank.
The bowling-party night also includes a fish-pond game for kids and a bake sale the women describe as huge.
Bond said about bidders on the homemade goods, “They’ll pay $30 for one of Grandma’s pies.”
The family also organizes a Date to Skate night at the Wildcat Centre -- people pay admission and get access to the open ice, as well as soda and pizza.
Chaffee said, “Each year we do some items that we sell,” explaining that the list has included bracelets, Halloween treat bags, note cards decorated with one of Carter’s paintings and a highly successful cookbook of family recipes.
They’ll sell T-shirts for 2011, but the design on the garments remains a surprise.
The next Walk Now for Autism event takes place Sept. 24 at the Mall of America -- its first year at this venue after holding the event in past years at regional parks.
Get more information at www.autismspeaks.org www.autismspeaks.org; support the Olson family by entering Carter Olson in the website feature called “find a walker’s name.”
People can read more there about Autism Speaks. Its works are partially defined by its mission statement:
“At Autism Speaks, our goal is to change the future for all who struggle with autism spectrum disorders. We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; to raising public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder.”