Goerie.com: Erie autism walk brings 2000 to Presque Isle

The annual walk raises money for the Autism Society — Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Emmy Kienholz stood in the cold Saturday morning, surrounded by relatives all dressed in t-shirts emblazoned with “Team Emmy” on the back.

Fifteen members of the 9-year-old Millcreek Township girl’s family had gathered at Presque Isle State Park’s Beach 11 for the Autism Society — Northwestern Pennsylvania’s 17th annual Walk for Autism. They were there for Emmy, who has autism.

“We come here every year, rain or shine,” said Emmy’s mother, Sheri Clayton-Kienholz. “It’s nice to have this support for her and everyone else who has autism.”

About 2,000 people participated in the two-mile walk, which serves as the main fundraiser for the Autism Society. It raises about $120,000 each year, covering 62 percent of the nonprofit’s annual expenses, said Tish Bartlett, executive director of the Autism Society.

Money raised from the walk also supports national research on autism, which affects 3.5 million Americans, according to the Autism Society. Previous walks had been held at the park’s Rotary Pavilion, but Bartlett said the organization simply had too many participants for that location.

“People come year after year, no matter the weather,” Bartlett said. “They came this year, despite the rain and cold. They just showed up a little later than usual.”

Cole Bender stood with his parents near the front of the line and was among the first ones to begin the walk. Cole, 6, kept warm with a scarf designed with jigsaw pieces, a sign of autism awareness.

Cole’s mother, Jen Bender, wore leggings with a similar jigsaw design. She said these walks are important because while people are more aware of autism, they still make insensitive comments at times.

“They say things like, ‘Cole doesn’t look autistic,'” Jen Bender said. “But what does autism look like? Cole’s brain just works a little differently.”

Once walkers completed their journeys, they were treated to a picnic lunch of hot dogs and potato chips.

The Walk for Autism wasn’t the only fund-raising walk held Saturday at Presque Isle. Hundreds of people participated in the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Walk MS: Erie 2018, which started at the park’s Cookhouse Pavilion.

David Bruce can be reached at 870-1736 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNbruce.

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