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Athletes help beef up funds for area autism society

CANFIELD — Brooke Ghilani was proud to have won a top award as part of a major yearly fundraiser, but the award also represented two family members who live a few hours away.

“She’s into gymnastics, dance and cheerleading,” Ghilani, of Alliance, said, referring to her 6-year-old niece, who lives in Pennsylvania and is on the autism spectrum.

Specifically, Ghilani took home an award for being the top female in a competition that was part of the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley’s annual Mahoning Valley Warrior fundraiser Saturday at the Canfield Fairgrounds.

Presenting the four-hour family-friendly competition was the Boardman-based Knapp Center for Childhood Development, which opened in October 2010 and offers an evidence-based applied behavior analysis program and other services for children and young adults on the spectrum.

Ghilani came to the Warrior’s funfest and competition also to represent her sister, 37, who is verbal and has had certain behavior challenges. Her sister’s goals include taking part in a 5K run or marathon, Ghilani continued.

Taking home an award for the Warrior’s top male was Mike Richards of Stow.

An estimated 30 vendors that included the Rich Center for the Study and Treatment of Autism on the Youngstown State University campus, took part in the event, a goal of which was to raise at least $30,000, Robin Suzelis, the ASMV’s executive director, noted.

Funds will go toward more than 50 events the organization hosts yearly, including a social-connections camp, support systems for families and information-and-referral services, Suzelis explained.

The Warrior gathering’s main events were a special-needs resource fair, individual strongman competitions, an autism support walk, a kids’ fun run and a tractor pull.

Also, hundreds of people participated in a 1-mile walk around the fairgrounds’ perimeter. In addition, neuro-typical children and those on the autism spectrum took part in the 400-meter fun run, Suzelis said.

She added that more than 25 teams competed in the Warrior event, which is the ASMV’s “flagship” and largest fundraiser.

The annual event was enjoyable for many, but also was literally an uphill challenge for the likes of John Schneider of Howland.

“I work out at the Avalon (Country Club) gym regularly,” Schneider said about one of the ways he prepared for being one of the strongmen.

For his part, Schneider, who also takes part in various obstacle course events, performed nine repetitions of lifting 225 pounds.

Handling something far lighter than Schneider was a carefree Addison Beary, 4, of Canfield, who pranced as she blew bubbles of varying sizes and shapes. Making her slice of fun possible was High 5 Foam Parties of Vienna, one of the vendors.

Addison came to Saturday’s Warriors event with family members that included her mother, Kayla Beary, who works for the Knapp Center that serves those age 2 to 22.

Kara Kautz, the Knapp Center’s human-resources generalist, noted that the facility offers an initial steps day treatment program for those ages 1 to 7, an enrichment program for children in kindergarten through third grade and a STEPS program for those 8 to 18. The center also has an outreach effort that offers services in the home, school and community for youth 2 to 21.

In addition, the Knapp Center, whose partnerships include the YMCA of Boardman and the Jewish Community Center in Youngstown, will be vastly increasing its footprint from 10,000 to 50,000-square feet when it moves in August to the former Red Roof Inn building in Boardman, Kautz continued.

Also at the Warriors gathering was a dunk tank in which several people got that sinking and soaked feeling. They included state Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, whose son, Ben, 11, was more than happy to toss a ball to take aim at his father.

Volunteering on behalf of the ASMV and young people on the autism spectrum is rewarding partly because it gives him opportunities to “put a smile on their face,” Al Cutrona said.

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