SUMMIT, NJ - Hilltop City businesses have gathered together to support Autism Awareness Month, hosting a series of fundraising initiatives and awareness campaigns during April.
 
Autism affects one out of 68 children in the United States -- one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls. One out of 41 children in New Jersey are affected by the complex disorder.
 
Zachary Brooks' 13 year-old twin brother Jack, is affected by Autism, and Brooks asked his aunt, Donna Puzella, if he could partner with her to begin the effort which has resulted in Summit's city- and business-wide initiative.
 
 
Puzella credits Brooks' personal involvement, and his brother-inspired initiative and enthusiasm, for the success of the program.
 
Brooks, a student at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, has brought the campaign there, and he will be a special guest at Summit High School later this month, making an announcement to the school about Autism Awareness Month and tying blue ribbons around some of the trees on the Kent Place Boulevard campus.
 
Brooks will also speak at the Summit Common Council Meeting April 19.
 
In 2014, Brooks was a recipient of the "Garden State Seeds of Hope" award from NJ Monthly magazine. Each year, five outstanding citizens are chosen to receive this award for volunteerism.with Brooks being the youngest person to receive the honor.

 
Brooks, at a young age, realized his brother was different, and that Jack's Autism affected his entire family. While Zachary lived with Autism every day, it could still be difficult for him to understand, which made him then think it certainly must be difficult for others who don't know anyone with autism to understand. He also experienced, first hand, how people at times could be unkind and cruel towards Jack and the family - so he knew he had to do something about it.
 
Brooks relayed to Puzella that, "if I start to make kids aware of Autism, maybe they'll grow up to be kinder and teach the next generation about Autism. I cannot make Jack's Autism go away, but I can try to make people understand it, make them aware of it, and hopefully make the world kinder for Jack and all those affected by Autism."
 
 Summit businesses and entities that are supporting the campaign include:
 
- The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey
- Momentum Cycling and Fitness
- The Office Tavern Grill
- Summit Area YMCA
- Lois Schneider Realtor
 - City of Summit
- Summit High School
- Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School
- St. Teresa of Avila Church
- Woodward Properties
- The Hat Tavern
- Tito's Burritos
- Anspach Opticians
- Silver Lining
- Willow St.
- Beauty Lounge
- The Tea Pot
- Privado Hair Salon
- Great House by Bonny Neiman
- A.Home
- Wellness Studio M
- The Film Society of Summit
- MONDO
- UPS Store
- The Bar Method
- Loya Yoga
- The Papery
- Sweet Nothings
 
For more information about Autism Awareness Month, visit autismnj.org or autismspeaks.org.