Gwinnett Daily Post - September 20, 2017

By Claire Dees

Volunteering often brings a free T-shirt and service hours to report. But I have enough T-shirts and more service hours than I can count. I now volunteer because I love it. As a young person, I was encouraged to volunteer in my community. I found opportunities for outreach in the inner city, tutoring underprivileged children, filling shoe boxes at Christmas, helping individuals with disabilities, visiting the elderly, and raising money for various causes through Church, Girl Scouts, Beta Club, and sorority involvement. I continued volunteering throughout my college years with the elderly, disabled, and children in need. I was a United Way Loaned Executive when beginning my career in business management and involved in community service with individuals with disabilities. Volunteer service has become a core value for me, changing me, giving me more confidence and purpose in life. I realized I am happiest when volunteering.

Volunteering has greatly impacted both my personal and professional life. After having a son with autism, my focus is now more around autism and families impacted by disability. Helping families is now my passion, as I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience to assist those navigating the often challenging and overwhelming journeys in life. I have met some of the most amazing people through volunteering and developed long-term relationships with many of them.

Spectrum Autism Support Group was created in 1998 in an effort to provide support for families impacted by autism in our community. Our 20th year will begin this October. Each year Spectrum serves over 1,500 families looking for support, education, and resources. We provide monthly support group meetings for parents of children with autism (of any age), dads, grandparents, and siblings, as well as social skills programs to meet the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum. Groups are offered the first Thursday of each month at the First Baptist Church of Duluth. Additionally, we host a summer camp program for seven weeks of day camp at the Praise Community Church (formerly Lawrenceville Church of God), along with a weeklong overnight camp, Camp Journey, at Camp Twin Lakes in Winder. Spectrum also offers respite, community training, and family events throughout the year.

The 11th annual Georgia Race for Autism and Fall Festival/Resource Fair is scheduled for Oct. 7 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, from 8 a.m. to noon. This family event draws close to 2,000 people and is open to the public. A 5K, 10K, tot trot, 1-mile run and 100-yard dash; fall festival with pony rides, petting zoo, bounce houses, and trackless train rides; a large resource and vendor fair; silent auction; food; entertainment and more make this event great for the entire family. Funds raised support Spectrum’s camps and clubs programs and other Spectrum activities which make a difference for our community. At a time where much is uncertain and disappointing in our world, it is meaningful to connect with others around needs that matter and know that we can make a difference in our community. One of the most rewarding things for me is to see volunteers adjust their path in life after volunteering with the amazing kids and adults we serve. Just last week, a mom told me that her son has decided to change his college major to special education after volunteering with children with autism at Spectrum’s monthly respite program.

If you want to make a difference in your life and the lives of those impacted by autism, consider volunteering with Spectrum. Volunteer opportunities are listed on our website at www.atl-spectrum.com. If you would like to volunteer for the Georgia Race for Autism and Fall Festival, register at www.georgiaraceforautism.com. We need 300 volunteers. Sponsors and vendors are still welcome as well. This event is a part of Gwinnett’s Great Days of Service (www.gwinnettgreatdaysofservice.org). We encourage you to find a project that suits your interests.
A free T-shirt is given to all volunteers- and T-shirts can be pretty cool- so sign up today, and you’ll not only add a great T-shirt to your collection, but you’ll be on your way to making an impact in the lives of those in your Gwinnett community.

Claire Dees is executive director for Spectrum Autism Support Group.