In the event’s sixth year, the Autism Walk of Surry County raised more than $50,000.
Though clouds loomed overhead and a mist was in the air on Saturday, thousands still attended the event at Riverside Park in Mount Airy.
At Saturday’s walk, Bridget Soots, who organizes the event, and event staff announced that they had shattered their goal of raising $45,000 for the Surry Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina. At the 2016 walk, the group raised about $42,000.
Soots said more than 40 teams took part in Saturday’s walk, and they all assembled for some entertainment prior to setting out on their four-mile trudge along the Ararat River Greenway.
Ben Journey is 22, and he was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, according to Greg Journey, Ben’s father.
“We had a pity party for a little while,” recounted Greg Journey. “Then we asked, ‘Why not us?’”
He explained he and wife Donna set out to give Ben a chance to do many things in life, and he found his calling in the realm of music. He plays the keyboard, the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. Ben performs as part of the family’s musical group, The Journeys.
“He does some funny things with his hands and makes some noises,” said Greg Journey. “Michael Jordan also stuck out his tongue when he shot a basketball.”
Ben and Donna performed a song written by Donna for the thousands who gathered for the annual walk. The song, “Give Them Chances,” garnered its theme from autism.
Donna Journey mentioned she and Ben will be performing at Shoals Methodist Church at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Other entertainment offered included the Chick-Fil-A cow, Zumba led by Scarlet Easter and Mandy Inman and music by DJ J.Mik.
The event also included a number of vendors, most of which offered some sort of product or service to those affected by the disability.
Soots said a number of entities stepped up to the plate to make the autism walk a success in 2017. The event’s top corporate sponsor was Phillips-Van Heusen. Employees at the company raised more than $5,000.
She noted Weyerhaueser, Surry Insurance, the Copeland Masonic Lodge and the Pilot Mountain Women’s Club also made large contributions to the event’s success.
Soots also offered a special thanks to Gentry Middle School. Students at the school designed the t-shirts for the walk, and they also raised more than $1,000. Millennium Charter Academy also raised more than $1,000, and Soots thanked Pilot Mountain Middle School and Dobson Elementary School for their continued support.
Team Adrianne, a team assembled to walk in honor of Adrianne Combs, who passed away in February at the age of 15, sold the most event T-shirts.
Soots said her organization helps teachers in local schools, families of autistic individuals and provides scholarships for higher learning and a summer camp geared toward serving children with autism.
The support group also offers speakers at its meetings and literature to affected families. Soots said one program purchases iPads for autistic children, since they are visual learners. None of those efforts would be possible without the large amount of support the organization receives from the community, however.
“We could not do it without our families, sponsors, schools, people who donate and people who buy T-shirts,” said Soots.
She noted the event has grown throughout its six years.
“It just keeps getting more successful. We are getting the word out,” explained Soots, noting many of the walkers on Saturday came from beyond the Mount Airy area.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.