Autism Speaks Cleveland holds walk virtually for the first time in its 14 year history

Autism Speaks Cleveland holds walk virtually for the first time in its 14 year history

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Many nonprofits are struggling to raise money during the coronavirus pandemic. Sunday would have been the 14th annual Autism Speaks walk in Cleveland, but because of COVID-19, the event was virtual.

This year has been a struggle for Autism Speaks. Normally by this point the Cleveland chapter would have raised more than $350,000, but right now they have only raised about $60,000. The chapter is working on some new ideas to fundraise safely.

Nikki McKinley’s 5-year-old son Jaxson was diagnosed with autism three years ago. Ever since then, she has leaned on the Autism Speaks community for support.

“Last year it was incredible,” said McKinley, who lives in Avon. “I mean it was so many people, and I think being around so many people and having live music, it was like a party. You just feel so much support.”

McKinley is still participating in the virtual walk this year.

“We’ve got a couple friends here with us today to kind of walk locally, but you know it’s just not the same,” she said.

This year’s event is remote, meaning you walk where you are.

Autism Speaks has a welcome event on social media, as well as other posts on Facebook to keep walkers connected throughout the event.

“With the concerns and the numbers of our area, [the press organization] decided it would be best to go virtual because the safety of our families and volunteers are the most important thing to us right now,” said Leslie Bloom, Manager of Field Development for the Northern Ohio chapter of Autism Speaks.

“The pandemic has affected our families so much harder than other families because of the lapse of resources and services," explained Bloom. "Our families were really hit hard, so this year there’s a lot of people who just can’t participate.”

Their fundraising efforts have taken a huge hit. They are still a few hundred thousand dollars short of their goal for this year.

“One of the things that we’re gonna be working on throughout the rest of the year is finding other ways to do [fundraising,]" Bloom said. "Since there’s a change shortage, you know, joining up with different companies and doing a round up campaign or asking people to sell our puzzle pieces in their stores.”

McKinley and her family are looking forward to helping.

“I plan to definitely talk to a few restaurants or stores around our area and see if they’ll help us out because they know Jaxson too,” said McKinley.

If you would like to donate to Autism Speaks you can head to their website. You can also start a fundraiser on Facebook.

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