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Quesnel autism awareness campaign going strong in ninth year

Quesnel Cariboo Observer - 3/19/2021

An annual fundraiser to raise awareness about autism is going strong in its ninth year.

Laura Hender and her family organize the event, and are on track to sell all 800 pins in 2021.

"We need to get people understanding what autism is," Hender said. "There's so much to it. Everyone who has autism is different, it's a spectrum."

Matthew Hender, Laura's son, has autism. That hasn't stoped the grade 12 student from excelling, both on the track through Special Olympics or academically. Matthew is planning on attending university this fall, with goals of becoming a pharmacist.

"There's no limit," Laura said.

Matthew chooses a charity each year that helped him since his diagnosis at four years old. The proceeds from pin sales will be going to Evan's Consulting in 2021, a support agency that has helped the Henders for over a decade.

"Ususally sessions are in person, but they've had to go online and there's quite a few families who may not have access to technology," Laura said. "Our idea is to purchase laptops or iPads that the agency can lend out to families. We don't want anyone to go without services because of the barrier of not having technology."

Giving to charity isn't the main priority for the campaign. Laura said the hope is wearing a pin can start a conversation, and raise awareness for people living with autism, and the challenges they can face.

"It's doing exactly what we want it to do, and the bonus is the charity piece," she said. "That was almost our secondary thought."

After selling pins for $7 a pop, and covering production costs, the agency will be receiving more than $3,000. Past beneficiaries from the fundraiser include Special Olympics Quesnel and the Quesnel SPCA.

Selling during a global pandemic has come with its own challenges. The pins have been available at some local businesses including Mama C's Gifts and Giggles, the Quesnel and Williams Lake Post Offices, South Side Liquor and Fountain Tire.

They've also found a way to do contact-less delivery, using mailboxes to safely get the pins to people.

"We have some avid collectors in town," Laura said. "They wait for their pin every year, they're excited just to have the pin."

They receive support from Hello Promotions to help with the pin design, and Big Country Stationary teams up with Granville's coffee to supply a $5 voucher to the restaurant with every pin sale.

"We couldn't do it without them," Laura said.

Pins this year have gone across the province and country, delivered to people living in Newfoundland. The Hender's hope the tenth anniversary of their campaign can go even bigger.

"Matthew wants us to go global," Laura said.

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