This past Friday, January 31, the Colgate women’s ice hockey team hosted its fourth annual fundraiser for the Autism Speaks organization during its home game against Brown University.
Founded in 2005, Autism Speaks is a New York City-based charity organization dedicated to the advocacy of autism research and the spread of autism awareness. The group was started in 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of an autistic child, and since then has donated over $7 million in funds for families with autistic children. The group has received over $400 million in media donations through advertisements, sponsorships and more, and has spent over $200 million in autism research. Each year, the group conducts walk-a-thon type charity events all over North America known as “Walks for Autism Speaks.” Between 2012 and 2013, over 340,000 people participated in these walks and raised roughly $59 million.
One of the organization’s most influential efforts is “AutismSpeaksU,” a subdivision which organizes and runs awareness events at universities and colleges around the United States. “AutismSpeaksU” has partnered with the Colgate women’s ice hockey team since 2011; this year, the team organized numerous raffles and a silent auction, a “Chuck-a-Puck” event during the second intermission and a “Greek competition,” determining which Greek organization had the most fans at the game. Delta Upsilon fraternity won this contest by an overwhelming margin.
The women’s ice hockey team began a program this year called “Learn to Skate” (LTS). During Colgate’s winter break, over a dozen local autistic children and their siblings convened at Starr Rink to receive skating lessons from players on the team who were usually matched with individual children. Caroline Potolicchio, a senior forward on the team, was unreserved in her praise of the program and its leaders.
“The Learn to Skate program has undoubtedly been one of the most influential parts of my Colgate experience,” Potolicchio said. “I can’t say enough about Jocelyn Simpson and her efforts with LTS. The time, commitment and energy she put into the program was impeccable. Not only did senior co-captain Jocelyn take the time to learn about each participant, but she also took even more time to teach her teammates about the kid they would be skating with.”
During Friday night’s pregame ceremonies, co-captain Simpson invited team manager Kati Williams to drop the ceremonial first puck. Williams has Asperger’s syndrome and has worked with the team for four years; in a memorable moment, Williams dropped the puck and received a standing ovation from the Starr Rink crowd.
Coach Greg Fargo, in an interview after the game, could not say enough about the team’s impressive manager. “For players and coaches alike, Katie is a part of the team,” Fargo said. “She attends every home game and arrives bright and early to be there when players show up. She is the first to give a high five or a pat on the back and always puts smiles on faces.”
Autism Speaks representatives at the game were effusive in their praise for the efforts of the Colgate community and the women’s team.
“The Colgate event is unique because the local community enthusiastically participates, making the event much more than just a hockey team fundraiser,” said one representative.
However, she cautioned, there is an inordinate amount of work still to be done for this cause. According to the Autism Society, autism affects over one million people in the U.S., and costs tens of billions of dollars each year, most of which manifests itself in costs to families and adults caring for autistic children. Over 40 percent of autistic children do not graduate from high school. When autism is diagnosed early, however, two-thirds of the lifetime costs can be avoided and individuals have a much greater chance to live fruitful and happy lives.