After her two-year-old nephew’s diagnosis with autism 17 years ago, Potomac’s Susan Pereles knew she had to become a catalyst for raising funds for autism research. Some people might donate money, attend a ball, or sponsor a dinner — but not Pereles. Her dream was to raise significant funding for autism research to find a cure for this difficult disease.
She rounded up friends, built teams, publicized the first Cure Autism Now Race and Fun Run – and through tireless work and dedication, she raised $100,000 the first year. Elated, but determined to do more, Pereles joined the staff of Autism Speaks and now serves as the director of field development. Cure Autism Now and Autism Speaks have merged.
On July 4, the Village of Potomac will host for the 17th time, the annual Autism Speaks 5K Race and Fun Walk. The Race/Walk begins and ends at the Potomac Library and will draw more than 1,500 racers, walkers and families committed to the cause.
“We have runners, walkers, families and teams that return year-after-year to take part in the event. Of the 90 teams registered, 50 of them have competed previously. Seventy percent have someone in the family or circle of friendship that is affected by autism,” Pereles said.
Last year, the race goal was $250,000 and $268,000 was raised. “We are hoping to equal or top that number this year,” she said. “Registration has been excellent and we have more teams than ever before. It’s a wonderful Potomac tradition now for families and individuals to start their July 4 celebration with the Autism Speaks Run/Walk. Many of our residents participate in the Run/Walk in Dewey Beach — or virtually from wherever they are. I am really excited about the shirt this year. Every year I worry but this year’s is one of our best.”
The Kerness Crew, led by Potomac’s Jay Kerness, has been running and walking the Autism Speaks 5K for 12 years. The team was established in honor of his son Jack who is a 2017 graduate of the McLean School. Jack will be attending Shenandoah Conservatory in the fall. The team is now also supporting his nephew who is autistic.
“We are so fortunate that the Kerness Crew returns year after year to support this worthy cause,” Kerness said. “It just wouldn’t be July 4 without the camaraderie of the race. Our team members are mostly neighbors from Fox Hills West along with family members — the commitment of our team means so much to us. We raise about $5,000 every year for Autism Speaks.” Kerness runs the 5K Race and Jack and his friends usually carry the banner which leads the walkers.
Autism Speaks is a national organization which is “dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions.” A host of resources can be found at its website www.autismspeaks.org.
One of the major problems facing the country is that 50,000 autistic youth are aging out of school services at the age of 21 or even 18, depending on the school system and skills of the young adult. Finding group homes, training and employment is challenging as is planning for the future of these young adults whose only caretakers have been parents and family. Marley Rave, the director of the Washington Capital Autism Speaks, said, “There is a tsunami of young adults with autism coming of age. The face of autism is changing and we need to change the future for those adults. Families are saying — what happens now that the school bus stops coming? No other 5K has had more participants across the nation — or raised more money. However, the annual cost to a family of an autistic child is $60,000 a year — and how can most families support these costs?”
Sign up for this race as an individual, create or join a team, or make a donation to Autism Speaks. Registration and details for the 2017 Autism Speaks 5K/Fun Walk are available on-line at http://act.autismspeaks.org/site/TR/TeamUp/TeamUp?fr_id=3100&pg=entry. The race begins at 8 a.m. with the 1 mile Fun Walk at 8:10 a.m. The fee is $40 until July 3, $45 on July 4. Arrive 30 minutes early if registering on July 4.