A month after a highly successful 5K run/walk, the students at Whittier High School are seeing their efforts to bring an autism chapter and support group to Sedalia come to life.
Students in Shawn Cairer’s service learning class had been working all year to plan the “Steppin’ for the Spectrum” 5K run/walk to benefit autism awareness, but they had a larger goal in mind — creating a support group for families who are affected by autism, as no such group existed in Pettis County. The 5K run/walk was to raise money to help that support group and it attracted more than 350 participants and raised about $8,000.
Now the effort is getting even more support, this time from Smith-Cotton High School alumnus TJ Muths, a sprint car driver who has taken to the cause to help support his autistic cousin, Zachary Pripusich. Muths, who graduated last year, now has a large autism awareness ribbon on his car to help spread the word.
“I put a ribbon on my car because I’m trying to help out the local chapter here at Whittier High School,” Muths said. “I’m just trying to raise some funds for autism awareness.”
Muths will be getting “Racing for a Reason” T-shirts in the next few weeks to help raise funds for the chapter and they’ll be sold at all of the races he participates in this year.
Whittier teacher and Muths’ aunt, Renee Pripusich, said she was happy to hear Muths was supporting the cause this year with the ribbon on his car. She said she and Zachary had no idea about the ribbon until they watched Muths race last weekend in La Monte.
“It’s awesome (Muths) has thought about this on his own,” Renee said. “There aren’t any local organizations (for autism), so parents call me and ask where they can find a doctor, a dentist, where to get a hair cut. Now we can network, share resources, things we haven’t been able to do really.”
Thanks to the efforts from Whittier students and community members, the local autism chapter and support group is now up and running and will have its fourth meeting today. Cairer said they’re still laying the groundwork and have a lot more to do, but they’re already helping people affected by autism.
“It was great to see the community come together, and TJ is extending those efforts,” Cairer said. “It’s cool to see that carrying on. It’s definitely a need in the community, so we’ll see where it goes. We’re still trying to create a mission, we’ve come together as a group to lay the groundwork, and I like where it’s going. We have a lot of individuals and parents helping us.”
Cairer said one goal for the group is to eventually have a website, but the main goal is to “help as many people as possible.” Renee has helped with the support group and other efforts to raise money and awareness, but she said it is “definitely kid-generated and kid-run.”
“(The students) come to the meetings even though they don’t have to,” she said. “Their enthusiasm and energy toward this is amazing. I’m so proud of them. It makes you hopeful for what’s to come.”
The next autism chapter meeting is today at 6 p.m. at Whittier High School. For more information, contact Cairer at email@example.com or call the school at 829-4764.