LIVINGSTON, NJ — Livingston residents helped the Livingston Advisory Committee for Disabilities (LACD) and Senior Youth & Leisure Services (SYLS) paint the Memorial Oval blue on Monday at their annual “Shine a Light on Autism” event to raise funds and awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder in partnership with Autism New Jersey.

Remarks were made by Brynn Alberici, manager of special events and community relations for Autism New Jersey, Mayor Ed Meinhardt, LACD chair Bob Gebroe and Livingston’s Autism New Jersey Ambassadors, the “Super Six,” before community members, dressed in blue for Autism Awareness Month, braved the late-April chill to take a lap around the Oval together.

“Last week, the Center of Disease Control released some new numbers in autism: previously, [New Jersey] was one in 41 [children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder], and we increased to one in 34,” said Alberici. “That’s a 19 percent increase. In the nation, we are now the state with the most individuals with autism, so that just makes events like this so much more important and for us to continue to carry on the message that people with autism deserve to be accepted and embraced as part of the community. It’s all of these faces and everybody here who’s going to continue to push for that cause.”

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Earlier in the month, the Super Six, a group of six Harrison Elementary School fifth graders participating in the Autism New Jersey Ambassadors Program for their fourth year, inspired the Livingston mayor and council to declare April 2018 as Autism Awareness Month in the township. Meinhardt said their words about why it is important to them to encourage community members to become better educated about autism and to help create a better community for individuals with autism were “some of the most beautiful words [he] has heard in a long time.”

On Monday, the six shared the same remarks again, explaining that their ambassador campaign “encourages everyone to help build communities that embrace and accept individuals with autism,” and taking turns reiterating the importance of raising awareness and acceptance in the schools and community.

After leading many fundraising initiatives such as standing outside local businesses to accept donations from community members and selling T-shirts for the cause, the Super Six raised a total of $703 and presented a $500 check to Autism New Jersey at the event.

“We started this group in second grade and I have to say that these boys are just absolutely phenomenal,” said one of their mom’s, who is an educator for children on the spectrum. “Many of us know a family member, a student, a friend, a classmate [on the spectrum], so it’s very important for us to understand Autism Spectrum Disorders and to be compassionate people.”

Also in attendance were Deepa Pisupati and Chitra Rochlani, leaders of the new “Let’s Sit Together” anti-bullying and inclusion campaign, who explained how their initiative ties into Autism Awareness Month—including the blue “Let’s Sit Together” shirts that many wore for the autism event and the goal of encouraging local youth to adopt the mindset that “nobody should feel left out.”

“Too many kids sit by themselves alone at lunchtime or in the playground…so we thought let’s come up with something to get inclusive feelings among them,” said Pisupati.

Participants in the event enjoyed snacks, DJ music and Autism Awareness merchandise that was made available with all proceeds going toward Autism New Jersey.

Meinhardt thanked Gebroe, who he said deserves “so much for all that he does for so many of us and for so many less fortunate,” Alan Karpas of SYLS, the Super Six, the local high school and middle school volunteers who helped organize the event and all of the community members who showed up to support it.

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