Ferrians step up to raise autism money

WARWOOD — Walk on.

That is exactly what a dedicated and passionate group of teachers, staffers and parents are doing at Martins Ferry.

Saturday marked the sixth consecutive year the Riders Walk for Autism team took park in the annual?Walk Now for Autism Speaks event in?Warwood.

The group is based out of the Martins Ferry?School?District. Martins Ferry Elementary School teacher Pam?McNeil spearheads the Riders’ team efforts.

She is assisted by fellow teachers Rhonda Delatore, Nikki Baranksi and Bethany Lucas. The four personify passion and commitment in their revenue-raising efforts.

Last year, the team raised $2,500 for the autism cause.

“It came about when we moved to Ayers Elementary (and the new middle school and high school) and I received a memo about the walk from Paula Norman, our special ed coordinator at the time. I thought it would be a great way to raise money and awareness for autism,” McNeil said. “We typically start collecting money for the walk a month to a few weeks prior to the walk. Ayers Elementary participates in an annual competition of homerooms collecting coins for the walk.

“The homeroom that collects the most coins in weight wins a pizza party. This year, Mrs. Bruney’s second grade class won the competition,” she continued. “The children collected a total of $250 in coins this year.”

McNeil also noted that Chuck Wharton, owner of Total Sports Connection, donates t-shirts for the walk every year. In turn, McNeil and her associates charge $10 a shirt with proceeds also going to the walk.

“This year, we have raised approximately $1,000 in t-shirt sales. We are hoping to raise $2,000 with additional donations from staff and families,” McNeil said prior to the walk. Our goal is to have about 30 to 40 participants in the walk today (Saturday).”

In its six years at the Warwood event, the Riders Walk for Autism team has generated close to $15,000 for the cause.

One of the Ferry families participating Saturday was that of Brett and Brenda Wilson. Their 3-year-old daughter, Addy Grace, is autistic.

The Wilsons travel to Connecticut at least once a year for Addy Grace’s treatments. While there, she is in the capable hands of Dr. Nancy Houfreuter-O’Hara. She is a Wheeling native whose father once directed Wheeling Hospital.

“People don’t realize how expensive autism care can be or how wide reaching its effects are,” Brenda Wilson said. “Addy Grace needs a special diet and we must travel to Pennsylvania to get some of the items, such as her milk.

“The trips to Connecticut are not covered by insurance, which can prove challenging,” she added. “So we are very supportive and appreciative of events like those today.

Martins Ferry School currently teaches approximately 10-15 students with autism in grades K through 12. McNeil said some are mainstreamed into regular education classes.

“We have some parent support and several of our families come out and walk with the staff,” McNeil said.

This is the 10th year for the Warwood walk. It usually generates $60,000 annually, according to event officials.

Kapral may be reached at