North Allegheny Teachers and the NA Community Unite in the Crusade Against Autism

By Paula Green

During April, we celebrate Autism Awareness Month; we often see autism represented by puzzle pieces. It is no wonder since this disorder is puzzling to both the medical profession and those who are inflicted with it. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Locally, there is an annual event that helps raise funds for autism awareness. An Evening for Autism was held on March 1 at the Pittsburgh Marriott North in Cranberry. One hundred percent of the monies raised benefits, Autism Speaks. The fundraiser was initiated 12 years ago by North Allegheny High School teachers. Since then it expanded.

“Our group started primarily as teachers and their spouses. We have evolved through the years to still have a strong NA teacher presence on the committee. Since then, it has broadened in its make up to include different occupations and organizations. We have pulled in some people with big hearts and hard work ethics that have made a difference. Our donation total is not finalized yet but, we will break another fundraiser record this with over $71,000, which is incredible. In 2008, we made $10,000, and nowhere in our wildest dreams could we have imagined raising over $407,000 for Autism Speaks,” said Mike Lyons, North Allegheny High School history teacher and co-chair of the event.

An Evening for Autism has grown to be more and more successful every year and is primarily due to the generosity of our sponsors, donors and attendees. “We have many different types of revenue streams, i.e. personal donations, corporate sponsorships, raffles. The amazing part is we do not make a lot of money from the ticket sale itself. Our largest revenue comes from our headline sponsor of UPMC, UPMC Health Plan, and Community Care Behavioral Health Organization, as well as other corporate and personal sponsorships and donations. Committee members are tireless in their support for the benefit. We ask local businesses, neighbors and family members, and they open their hearts and their wallets to give. Throughout the years, I find that people are good and want to make a difference in the world, but they want to know their contributions are going to a worthwhile cause. Our supporters know who we are and how important Autism Speaks is to us. We are stronger than ever,” Mike said.

Val Scolieri co-chaired this year’s benefit, and other committee members included Mike’s wife, Annmarie Lyons, and North Allegheny High School math teacher, Sharon Volpe, Paulette Bundick, Heidi Moose, Andrea Gionta and Ernie Pontiere. It was a very successful fundraiser, according to Mike, “It is an amazing experience. When you can get a group of people all pulling the rope in the same direction and no one cares who receives credit, a lot of great things can happen. I did not know many of these people 12 years ago, and now it is an honor and privilege to call them, my friends. Now, our children are getting involved in the benefit and helping with solicitations or sitting in meetings. It has truly become a family affair, and that family backbone is the strength of our committee.”