By Gregory Furgala
“You don’t have a choice with autism. The children don’t have a choice, and the families don’t have a choice. And what we need to do is create opportunity. And the way we’re going to create opportunity is by increasing awareness.”
Those were the opening remarks from Brent Poulton, president of St. Louis Bar & Grill, a sports bar and restaurant chain, to kick off its fundraiser for the Shining Through Centre last November. Founded in 1999 by five families, all of whom had a child with autism, the Shining Through Centre has grown into a world-class organization with campuses in Woodbridge, North York and Mississauga, Ontario. The evening featured a live auction and raffle, and capped off St. Louis’s month-long drive to raise funds for children with autism at local schools for Autism Awareness Month, which lasted through October. It was also a roaring success, raising $260,000 — $60,000 over St. Louis’s goal.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of our organization, with respect to what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Poulton.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 1 in 66 Canadian children aged 5 to 17. The symptoms of ASD vary in intensity and kind, and often co-exist with other disorders, but affected individuals typically experience difficulty with social interactions and are prone to repeating specific patterns of behaviour. That variability can complicate support, which is necessarily tailored to each individual — what works with one child might not work for another.
St. Louis Bar & Grill was an early supporter of Shining Through. This year for Autism Awareness Month, customers were asked to donate $5 in exchange for a book of coupons with more than $30 in savings. To date, St. Louis has raised more than $1.2 million in support of the Shining Through Centre.
Every dollar for the centre helps. It costs $75,000 per child, per year. The fundraising that St. Louis has provided has helped Shining Through develop a world-class program. It now employs a staff of highly trained and specialized professionals who create new programs and, in total, provide 110,000 hours of therapy per year.