RICH CENTER FOR AUTISM Poland mayor serves as advocate
Ruth Wilkes helps by applying for grants and going to events to attract interest in the facility.
By JOSH ECHT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
POLAND -- Ruth Wilkes gets tons of use out of her 2001 Mercedes with its "MAYOR" license plates.
She uses it to drive to Poland, where she has served as mayor since 1990.
She also uses it to drive to Youngstown Rotary meetings, dinners and outings, opportunities for her to generate support for the Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University.
Wilkes splits her time between being Poland mayor and finding financial support for the Rich Center as its resource development coordinator.
"I delegate mayoral responsibilities to the appropriate people," Wilkes said. "Both positions are part time but will expand to full-time efforts."
The Rich Center, founded in 1995, is designed to improve the social and educational success of children with autism and support for their families.
Wilkes said the hardest obstacle in dealing with both positions is the time management.
"The hardest thing is finding enough time in the day to balance both jobs," she said.
Wilkes, hired in January, helps the Rich Center through applying for grants and attending community events such as golf outings and dinners to attract prospective donors.
"She has experience and background in writing grants as mayor and serving in government, which helps our organization," said Georgia Backus, center director.
"She understands the connection between the university and the center and has an overwhelming need to support children and families," Backus said. "Her level of commitment is fabulous in seeing the center continue to receive national recognition."
Program Director Lenore Collupy said one of Wilkes' strengths is her sensitivity to autism, even though Wilkes is not related to anyone with the condition nor has it herself.
"She takes her job seriously and understands the issues that go along with autism," Collupy said. "It's a pleasure to have someone like her seeking sources around that can help us."
The Rich Center for Autism serves about 40 children with autism and is funded through private donations and the Ohio Autism Scholarship.
The Kosar, Rich (Ricchiuti) and Rubino families' shared interest in autism helped create the center, which is named in honor of Anthony and Paula Rich, who died in a plane crash in Pennsylvania in 1994.