By Annika Tomlin
For 14 years, the Autism Society of Southern Arizona has hosted a community walk with local exhibitors to provide a fun, interactive event for the whole family. The event was scheduled for April but, due to COVID-19, it was pushed to a virtual walk on September 26.
“We are really reimagining this walk in a new way,” says Brie Seward, Autism Society of Southern Arizona’s executive director.
“It was scheduled for April and we were three weeks away and we had to slow our plans. We rescheduled but really revisioned and reevaluated how we are going to do this, and we’ve been able to pivot and make it in an online space.”
Seward joined the team five years ago in the marketing committee. She became associate director in 2017 and executive director this year.
“I’ve seen this organization grow so much,” Seward says. “We have done a lot of great work for Southern Arizona and it keeps building.”
For the virtual walk, the organization created a dedicated website that includes an online resource fair, live panel discussions and an opening ceremony.
“We have live discussion panels going on from 9 to 5 from experts across the country, and in our state that will help families navigate autism and inform them and educate them,” Seward says. “That is something we couldn’t do in person, so this is really a great bonus to doing a virtual event.”
Once on the website, a schedule lists the events and will take visitors to the homepage. Live panel presenters include Absolute HCBS and Banner University Health Plans; Children’s Clinics and Helping Hands Behavioral Therapy; and Southern Arizona Neuropsychology and FABAS.
In addition to the live panel discussion, the organization created an online resource fair that includes exhibitors that help with autism so families wouldn’t miss out on it.
To register, visit as-az.org. After purchasing a $5 ticket for children ages 4 to 17 and $20 for adults, the recipient will be given a password to log into the event website, 2020autismwalk.as-az.org, to access the live presentations and virtual walk.
Labor of love
Seward says she wanted the event to continue because it’s their labor of love.
“We always strive to bring them the resources that they need because, really, resources can change your child’s life,” Seward says. “If you know the doctor to go to or the therapist who will give your child the diagnosis or provide speech services that can help them talk one day, that’s access to a different outcome than if you didn’t have that information.”
Seward says it’s sad that the event is live, because it brings in people from around the world.
“They gather like their entire family from nanas and tatas and cousins and family and friends into these huge groups who represent their teams in signature T-shirts and T-shirts dedicated to who they are walking for. We wanted to still bring the same level of excitement to that. We didn’t want to let them down.”
Autism Society of Southern Arizona continues to provide resources for families and referrals during this pandemic and has expanded its virtual programs to include swimming, youth activity meetups and adult social club meetups. The company hired Maxine Matthews as an information and referral specialist who is available to families throughout the day.
“We want to keep our families engaged, active, committed and connected with each other,” Seward says.