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Colorful August walk will celebrate those on the autism spectrum

Observer - 8/5/2022

Aug. 4—LA GRANDE — On Aug. 13, Union County residents will celebrate community members on the autism spectrum with flying colors.

Color the Blues for Autism Walk is an annual, family-friendly community event hosted in collaboration with the Autism Society of Oregon. Cassiopaia Smith, Union County representative for ASO, said the event is not just for those directly impacted by autism, but for allies, too.

"A lot of our families have someone on the spectrum in their family or a friend on the spectrum," Smith said. "Everyone can relate in some way or another."

This year's walk received two $2,500 donations from what the ASO calls "platinum sponsors" — La Grande'sCenter for Human Development and The Dalles-based non-profit Greater Oregon Behavioral Health. Other sponsors chipped in as well, including La Grande's own Bowman Trucking.

Smith and co-organizer JulieKay Dudley started the Union County Color the Blues for Autism Walk in 2016. According to Smith and Dudley, the event has outgrown its original locale at Riverside Park, and will now be held at the Union County Fairgrounds, 3604 N. Second St.

Smith said the fairgrounds offer a space that is big enough and safe enough for more people to come and enjoy the festivities. Despite the location change, Smith expects to see returning volunteers and participants who have a soft spot for the yearly event.

"This is the walk that they look forward to being a part of every year," she said. "It feels pretty good to have that response."

For Smith, the autism walk — and her role in planning it — hits close to home. Her son, Raiden, was diagnosed with autism at two years old. Raiden endured all manner of challenges, from being born prematurely to persevering through a broken collar bone while working through a developmental delay.

"He's our success story," Smith said. "He's my superhero."

Despite his developmental delay, he began formulating words and sentences around four years old with the help of some of his favorite songs and television shows. Now 12, Smith's son joins her for the yearly walks.

This year, Smith has invited the Portland Ghostbusters — a donation-based charity cosplay group that participates and volunteers in community events throughout the Pacific Northwest — to the walk. A few of the group's volunteers will be in attendance, dressed in full Ghostbusters get-up.

Attendees can also expect a free lunch, a photo booth, face painting, prize raffles and more. Local vendors like La Grande's Kettle Corn N' More will also be selling a variety of treats. This year's festivities will also include a bounce house.

Dudley, whose daughter is on the spectrum, has been involved in the autism community for over 35 years. For her, the day is just as important for celebrating children on the spectrum as it is for parents and family.

"I never realized until we started this how much families need a day to just be a family," Dudley said. "For parents, it's a day to relax and let your hair down."

For siblings who often feel left out because of the energy parents put into caring for their child with autism, Dudley said the color walk can help them understand "that their sibling is someone to celebrate."

The culminating activity of the day will be the color walk. Smith and Dudley have ordered bulk batches of dyed cornstarch that participants can throw as they parade around the half-mile paved loop on the fairgrounds. Dudley's advice to event-goers: "Wear something that you don't mind getting colors on."

With the help of the Union County Chamber of Commerce, Smith hopes to garner more volunteers and community members who want to attend. Smith said she anticipates 250 attendees this year, but would be thrilled if more show up.

"There's so much craziness in the world today," she said. "We just want to let everyone know that we all can come together."

Funds from event registration fees will go toward supporting ASO-sponsored programs, events and support groups in Eastern Oregon. Registration is $10 for adults over 18 and $5 for children between three and 17. Admission is free for children two and under. Participants over the age of two receive T-shirts with their registration.

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Shannon Golden is a reporter for The Observer. Contact her at 541-624-6015


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