By Nicole Davis
One Leadership Johnson County (LJC) group is celebrating Autism Awareness and Autism Acceptance Month the entire month of April by helping raise money for Autism Community Connection (ACC).
The fundraiser, Be the Change for Autism, was developed by the LJC Class of 2022 group, Connect 6 for Autism. The group’s five members – Donna Jones, Amy Key, Chris Kolderup, Lindsey Turner and Cyndi Wesley – have lined up 45 businesses around Johnson County which will participate by putting out a donation box. Restaurants will also be given coasters with QR codes on them, leading customers to the fundraiser’s Website where donations can also be made online.
“It’s more than a fundraiser,” Jones said. “We’re taking all of the boxes, all of the businesses, and we’re putting all of this material together into a marketing program for Autism Community Connection so they can repeat it next year.”
All funds will go to ACC, a nonprofit headquartered in the Center Grove area. ACC serves individuals with autism and their families in and around Johnson County. The Be the Change for Autism fundraiser will specifically benefit Young Adult Connection, a program which helps young adults with autism, age 18 and older, maintain friendships and a healthy social life. Currently there are three small groups which meet through this program.
“I happen to be really good friends with a family whose daughter has autism,” Jones said. “She’s 24 years old and very dear to me. I’ve watched her grow into a lovely young lady but I also know she has severe limitations. Katie made all these friends in high school, as do all young adults. But once they’re out of high school they lose all those social connections and life skill opportunities. That’s where Autism Community Connection comes in. They help Johnson County families continue to grow socially, emotionally and with their life skills. Employment is a big issue. They do even more with them from an employment perspective. This really touched my heart.”
So Jones shared what she knew of the nonprofit with her LJC group. LJC is an adult community leadership training program at Franklin College. Class participants are divided into groups and work on projects which address opportunities and challenges in the community. They ultimately chose to take on fundraising for ACC as their project. Be the Change for Autism is based on and expanding on a fundraiser that was done for ACC in 2021. Main & Madison Market Cafe in Franklin has a generosity jar that they leave out for an entire month. Last year in July, the shop raised the most money they ever have – $11,000 – for ACC.
“For a small nonprofit, that was a game changer to us,” said Kelli Higgins, ACC executive director.
In addition to those funds, the Johnson County Community Foundation awarded ACC a grant for its Young Adult Connection. This allowed ACC to hire a program coordinator and a program assistant.
“The program is slowly growing the way we’d like it to grow,” Higgins said. “There is a lot of potential to raise some good money through this (Be the Change for Autism fundraiser). Not only that, it’s bringing awareness to the community and bringing our name out there. There is potential for a lot of funds that can help this organization with our reach in the community, not only for Johnson County but for surrounding counties. We have a lot of ideas and a lot of vision for this organization and this will be very helpful.”
To view which businesses are participating or to donate, visit autismcc-in.org/be-the-change-for-autism.
“It’s been a rewarding experience,” Jones said. “If we can be the change for these young adults and give them the quality of life that they deserve, then let’s’ do it.”