By Lawrence Belanger
Local Journalism Initiative
Dixville Foundation Director General Don Warnoltz, along with Christian Frechette, Director General of Louis Luncheonette Restaurants, and Jean-Pierre Oddo, owner of Les Vraies Richesses bakery, launched a fundraising campaign on Thursday for the Dixville Foundation, coinciding with Autism Awareness Month, also known as Autism Acceptance Month.
During April, Les Vraies Richesses will be selling a special pastry bearing the logo of the Dixville Foundation, and for every pastry sold, $1 will be donated to the Foundation. Meanwhile, Louis Luncheonette Restaurants will donate $1 for every poutine sold during the first week of April (1-7). The proceeds will fund the Foundation’s multitude of projects and resources.
“Contrary to many other establishments, which would write a cheque to a healthcare institution,” Warnoltz said Dixville works with families and individuals on their specific needs.
“When you have autism or another intellectual disability, it’s [for] a lifetime,” said Warnoltz, speaking after the conference.
“We run regular activities,” said Warnoltz, whose organization works with around 1,400 families and individuals annually. He described how the Foundation provides things like specialized equipment, school preparation, respite services for families, summer camp stays, zootherapy, and more. “Computers are quite popular, often as communication devices,” he added. “There are a lot of needs out there that people don’t recognize, and we try to help as many people as possible.”
“We’ve even had people ask for work shoes because they got a chance to get a job but they can’t afford the work boots.”
The organization also runs a recreational community center, known as the “Drop-In Center,” in Lennoxville, where people can go to socialize and participate in user-organized activities.
“If we can support [autistic] people in the community,” reasoned Warnoltz, “there’s less of a need for them to go out to the specialized services.” By helping facilitate recreation, breaking individual isolation, and creating friendships, autistic peoples’ quality of life improves.
To his knowledge, no one on the Dixville Foundation’s board is autistic, but some have children who are. “One thing that’s unique about our board of directors,” noted Warnoltz, was that between them was “over well over 200 years of experience working in the field.”
Charities like the Dixville Foundation spend the month of April focused on raising awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders, while autism self-advocacy groups promote broader societal and cultural acceptance of people with autism.
According to the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, “Autism is a neurological variation that occurs in about 1-2 per cent of the population and is classified as a developmental disability. Although it may be more common than previously thought, it is not a new condition and exists in all parts of the world, in both children and adults of all ages.”
The terms “autistic” and “autism spectrum” often are used to refer inclusively to people who have an official diagnosis of the autism spectrum or who self-identify with the autistic community.
The business representatives also spoke about the value of supporting autistic members of the community, which included members of their businesses and families.
“We have autistic employees, and we wanted to make a difference,” said Frechette. “It’s important to me because many people are autistic,” he continued. “These are people who…can integrate constructively into society.” According to him, this is Louis Luncheonette’s 2nd year of fundraising with the Dixville Foundation.
Oddo, the owner of “Les Vraies Richesses” artisanal bakeries, said his awareness of autism advocacy stemmed from his experiences raising an autistic son. He is aware of what a family can go through and the challenges of raising a child with differences.
Warnoltz encourages would-be volunteers for the Foundation to look at their website (fondationdixville.org), and see what they’re doing. “We’re always looking for volunteers for events,” he added. Autistic people and their families can also make requests for financial assistance on the website.