By Lynn R. Parks

Like so many nonprofit organizations, Autism Delaware has had to cancel fundraising events as the country deals with the coronavirus crisis. 

Its biggest fundraiser, the Drive for Autism, scheduled for April 30 at the DuPont Country Club near Wilmington, has been scratched. Also not taking place this spring are walks in New Castle County and at Cape Henlopen State Park near Lewes that typically bring in more than $200,000.

But people who still want to walk to raise money for the advocacy and support group for families that are struggling with autism have an option. Autism Delaware is holding a Virtual Walk for Autism, taking place all this month. 

Community members are encouraged to walk in their neighborhoods, around their yards, even in their houses, take pictures or videos of their walking and post them on social media websites. “Walk for miles, walk for blocks, walk up and down stairs, or walk in place,” the Autism Delaware website says. “We don’t care how you do it.”

Supporters are also encouraged to send their walking photos and videos to Autism Delaware, which will compile them into a video it will post at the end of the month. 

David T. Woods, development director for Autism Delaware, said that the group hopes that the virtual walk generates enthusiasm throughout the state, and that people are spurred to contribute to the organization. 

“We do not expect the virtual walk to raise as much money as the other walks have,” Woods added. “We hope it takes off and is a big hit. We hope people see it as a fun and safe way to raise awareness and have an impact, and we hope people will consider making donations.

“We realize this is a challenging and uncertain time for all of us,” he added. But “we hope that this is a way to make lemonade out of lemons.”

Last year, more than 4,000 people participated in the two walks, about 1,000 people at Cape Henlopen and 3,000 people at Fox Point State Park. This year’s New Castle County walk was scheduled to be held at Bellevue State Park near Wilmington. 

The shutdowns being forced by the coronavirus crisis hit Autism Delaware and the population it serves in several ways, Woods said. Children and teens don’t have school to go to. Adults don’t have work and volunteer opportunities offered by Autism Delaware’s POW&R (Production Opportunities for Work and Recreation) program.

And then many of the social programs that the organization offers have stopped meeting, meaning that traditional ways of helping people are no longer available. 

“The closing of schools, businesses…and other public gatherings has had a compounding effect on our population,” Woods said. “During this crisis, we have seen a dramatic increase in requests for support, and we are working hard to meet those demands.”

Woods hopes that, even if there aren’t real walks going on, people will create walking teams and invite others to donate. 

He said that he is unable to predict what the ramifications of falling short on fundraising could be for Autism Delaware. The Centers for Disease Control’s latest figures show that one child in 54 is autistic. That’s up from one in 150 children just 18 years ago. 

“The numbers are increasing and we have been expanding our supports and services each year to meet the growing demand,” Woods said. 

“Without adequate funding, our efforts to meet the growing demand will be much more difficult.”