There’s $5,400 more for autism research and support — and likely much more local autism awareness — thanks to the fundraising efforts of Deirdre Janssen and her team of runners.
Janssen’s Parksville Qualicum Beach group is the top fundraiser as of Sept. 22 for the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, which will take place Sunday, Oct. 8.
Janssen, a teacher at Oceanside Elementary School, said it was the outpouring of support from local individuals and businesses that led her team and her students to raise more than her goal of $5,000.
“We’re thrilled,” said Janssen of exceeding her goal. “We didn’t know if we would be able to manage it, but it’s been wonderful. We feel fantastic.”
Fundraising by selling Kernels popcorn, Janssen and her team’s efforts resulted in a chain reaction of community members sending in orders, and even communicating their experience with autism.
Some of the first fundraising efforts were spearheaded by Janssen’s students, who held a popcorn day at Oceanside school in late May.
The event raised $325.
Other purchases came from letting people know about the fundraising initiative on local Facebook pages, said Janssen.
“I’d place an order (for popcorn) and within half an hour I’d have 50 people all saying, ‘Yes I’ll buy some,’” she said.
“Then when I contacted them to arrange delivery and payment, so many of them would say, ‘Oh, my son has autism,’ or ‘My nephew has autism,’ or ‘One of my friends’ children has autism,’ and they would continue to spread the word.”
As a parent of a child with autism (Janssen’s running team is named “Including Roan” for her son), connecting with people who’ve been impacted by autism is significant for Janssen.
“When Roan was diagnosed… you feel that you’re the only person with a child who has a disability. And so once I started doing this campaign and started hearing about all of the other people who have been affected in some way, it makes you feel that you aren’t so alone and that you do feel part of a group that’s really special.”
In addition to raising funds for Autism Speaks Canada, Janssen said, she hopes her team’s and her supporters’ efforts result in greater awareness and understanding about autism, especially when it comes to other kids.
“(These kids’) parents were buying popcorn, and they are wondering why there were having popcorn,” said Janssen. “It was an opportunity for those parents to talk to their kids about what autism is and how to include kids like that.”
In total, Janssen and team Including Roan sold 4,500 bags of popcorn to 200 different families, raising $5,405.
This far exceeds Janssen’s first Autism Speaks Canada fundraising effort last year, when she raised about $3,000.
The other members of team Including Roan are Corry Pettigrew, David Michels and Jennifer Dignard.