Tyler Springer | Staff Reporter
Singers. Actors. Athletes. Many people have role models that fall into one of these categories. However, junior Sara Midura’s inspiration comes from someone who is not a famous movie star or a sports icon.
Her idol is a New Jersey boy named Payton.
Six years ago, Midura met Payton, who is autistic, while he was in elementary school. While attending Cherokee High School in Marlton, New Jersey, she met with Payton once a week to talk and kick a soccer ball around. This was made possible by a program called STARS. The program connects high schoolers with elementary kids who have autism. Midura also recalled listening to Payton read full chapter books at only 5 years old.
“He is a better reader than I am,” Midura said.
When it came to communicating, though, she said she saw how difficult it was for Payton to make his voice heard.
“In school, other kids didn’t understand him, and I could see the anger that was building up inside of him because of that,” Midura said.
As Midura said goodbye to Payton and moved to Indiana to start college, she said she felt a need to carry Payton’s spirit with her by joining a similar club at Butler. The problem was there were not any clubs similar to STARS.
Midura took an idea she had as a freshman and made it a reality two years later. Her organization was approved by the Student Government Association in October.
The club, of which Midura is the president, is a chapter of the local non-profit organization Answers for Autism. Located in Indianapolis, the 14-year-old organization was founded by a group of parents who felt the need to increase awareness of autism.
“Our focus is to help individuals with autism to learn the skills that will help them become valued members of the community,” Patty Reed, president of Answers for Autism, said.
Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S., according to Autism Speaks.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is diagnosed based on problems with brain development and can lead to obstacles in communication, attention, coordination and interaction with others. One in 68 children has been diagnosed with ASD, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reed said Answers for Autism started out with an annual walk. Through increased participation and funds, the group is now able to plan bike rides, galas and give $50,000 annually in grant money to various community organizations. All of the money the organization raises goes to fund the grants. So far, more than 200 grants totaling around $650,000 have been given out.
The organization has expanded to start their first college chapter at Butler.
“Butler is the perfect place to bring an organization like this because people here are so kind and open-minded,” Midura said.
Reed said she is looking forward to seeing what the chapter can accomplish, but she will not be making the chapter’s decisions for them.
“We are letting the chapter lead the way,” Reed said. “But we are excited to have the energy of college students because we are still just a group of parent volunteers.”
The Butler chapter already held its first call out meeting where around 35 students came to learn more about the chapter.
Junior Kelsie VanWynsberghe was in attendance. Despite her busy schedule, she said she plans on helping out with the chapter as much as she can.
“I have always been interested in people that have autism, so I thought it would be a good idea to give back and help spread awareness,” VanWynsberghe said.
Although the first official meeting is in January, Midura said 100 people signed up for the group’s email listserv and are in the process of planning events. Some ideas include bringing in guest speakers, showing documentaries and holding a carnival for kids.
“You are going to get a lot out of it if you join this club,” Midura said. “Our small campus can make a really big difference.”
Midura said she encourages students to attend the meeting because learning more about autism is important.
“There is a negative stigma that sometimes goes along with autism,” Midura said. “But we really want to show people the amazing things that people with autism can do.”
Reed said she is confident through this extension of her organization, Butler’s campus will gain a better awareness of what autistic people have to offer.
“We want college students to be accepting of these individuals,” Reed said. “Just because they are different does not mean that they cannot be your friends.”