The Ohio State Community is set to come together so children with intellectual and developmental disabilities like autism can have the chance to enjoy normal childhood experiences like playing on a playground.
OSU’s chapter of Autism Speaks U is calling on its fellow Buckeyes and the Columbus community to participate in a tailgate-themed fundraising event called “Autism Speaks: The Buckeyes are Listening” at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Tamara Hager, fiscal officer and manager of outreach and engagement for the Nisonger Center, said the proceeds from the event will benefit the construction of a new playground at the Nisonger Center at OSU, as well as benefit Autism Speaks U at OSU.
The Nisonger Center is a “university center for excellence in developmental disabilities” that offers services such as clinics and is involved in activities like psychopharmacology research, according to its website. The center provides education, service and research to individuals of all ages.
The event will be emceed by local TV station NBC4-WCMH sports director Jerod Smalley.
“It’s great that people are going to have an opportunity to learn more about what Autism Speaks U is, what it does, the purpose that it has and the way that it can serve as a bridge between the collegiate community and the public at large,” Smalley said. “It’s a really good idea and it’s great to see Ohio State’s putting this together. I think it’s awesome.”
Smalley has two sons with autism, Brady, who is 9, and Tyler, who is 7. He also anchors the NBC4 show “The Autism Puzzle,” which has earned three regional Emmy awards.
The event will also feature three brothers as guest speakers: Wes, Joshua and Jahred Perry. Wes is a saxophone player in the OSU Jazz Ensemble, Joshua is a linebacker for the OSU football team and Jahred is a Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings for Students with Intellectual Disabilities program student at the Nisonger Center, Hager said.
Jahred was diagnosed with Asperger Disorder, an autism spectrum disorder, one month before his 10th birthday, an Autism Speaks U press release said. He enrolled in the TOPS program, a pilot college program for students with intellectual disabilities, after graduating from Olentangy High School and now serves as the student manager for the OSU men’s lacrosse team.
“Our TOPS program … really focuses on providing a college experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities including autism,” Hager said. “It provides them an opportunity to attend college and helps them to obtain job skills because they participate in internships.”
Hager said that when Jahred entered the program, he was shy and reserved about very large events. Through the TOPS program, Jahred attended his first hockey and basketball games at OSU and might attend a football game this upcoming season.
Katie LaRose, co-president for Autism Speaks U at OSU, said she hopes the event this Saturday at Ohio Stadium will be a success.
“I think this event is a great way to have Autism Speaks at OSU and the Nisonger Center come together to fundraise and spread awareness during Autism Awareness Month to give back to our community by building a playground for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism,” LaRose, a fourth-year in community health and nutrition, said.
Hager said the proceeds from the event will be split, with half of the proceeds going to the construction of the playground at the Nisonger Center and the other half going to Autism Speaks U at OSU.
She said the current playground will be renovated so that the space is safer for children to play on. The replacement of the playground will cost more than $300,000, of which $100,000 has been funded by a Columbus Foundation grant. The Nisonger Center plans on breaking ground this summer.
Hager said the Nisonger Center is encouraging local businesses to become sponsors for the event and ticket packages are available at three different levels of sponsorship.
Michael Lewisohn, a second-year in management of information systems and fundraising chair for Autism Speaks U at OSU, said they chose a football theme for the event because of the strong connection Columbus has with OSU football.
“To put that love for football together with our love for putting awareness out there, especially during autism awareness month in April, we think that the two put together will just create such a success for our event and giving back to the community,” Lewisohn said.
The event will feature a tour of Ohio Stadium, including the recruit room, a silent auction of sports memorabilia, and a meet and greet with Brutus Buckeye and the OSU cheerleaders, Lewisohn added.
Smalley said throughout all the coverage of the OSU football team, he has only been in the recruit room once, making this a special opportunity for sponsors.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, first of all to have that opportunity,” Smalley said. “It’s such a cool place. There is really no place like Ohio Stadium. So, the chance to see it up close like this, and in a way that you ordinarily could not as a fan, I think is spectacular.”
Hager said tickets can be purchased at go.osu.edu/ohiostadiumtickets and students can purchase discount tickets for $25 by entering the promo code asu@osu2015, but there are a limited number of student tickets available. Students must also present a valid BuckID upon entry.
“Our goal on campus is to spread awareness,” Lewisohn said. “And we think that joining with the Nisonger Center is a way of giving back to the community, as well as spreading awareness at the same time. So, that’s how this event stands out from every other event that we’ve done in the past.”
The event will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. General admission for the event is $75 and individual sponsorship tickets are $150.
Editor’s note: Wording in this article has been changed to more accurately describe individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Clarification: April 6, 2015
An earlier version of this article said that the Nisonger Center playground is being renovated so that children with autism could safely play on the equipment. In fact the playground is being renovated so that children with any intellectual or developmental disability can safely play.