When Deirdre Janssen signed up for next month’s GoodLife Fitness Marathon in Victoria, she intended to run for her autistic son, Roan.
Thanks to the surprising success of a fundraising campaign for Autism Speaks Canada, though, Janssen finds herself running for a much larger contingent.
“I’ve been getting individual donations from colleagues, friends and family,” said Janssen, 42. “It’s just taken off and become kind of a community program.”
Janssen, a teacher at Oceanside Elementary School, set up a sponsorship fundraiser for Autism Speaks Canada when she began her marathon training in June, with a modest $500 goal. But she exceeded that total in two weeks, and the amount pledged on her donation page combined with commitments Janssen has received is approaching $2,000 with about a month remaining before the Oct. 9 marathon.
A $250 contribution from the Oceanside Elementary Parent Advisory Council (PAC) got the ball rolling, she said. After she bumped her goal to $1,000, she received a $500 donation to Autism Speaks Canada from RBC Dominion Securities. She again recalibrated her fundraising goal, to $2,000, while smaller donations continue to come in from many individual donors.
“I had no idea how it would go; I’ve never done a fundraiser before,” Janssen said. “I’ve been amazed by how many people have come out in support of me and this cause.”
Roan, now 13, was diagnosed with autism at age three. Janssen also has a younger son, Willem, 10.
Janssen, who holds a second-degree black belt in taekwondo, has been running regularly for the past four years, and completed her first full marathon at the GoodLife event two years ago.
This time, she said, she was motivated to support Autism Speaks, which is dedicated to funding scientific research, national and local services, spreading awareness and collaborating with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community.
“When I looked up the list of marathon sponsors, (Autism Speaks) wasn’t on the list,” Janssen said. “But I really wanted to support this organization. They are a fabulous resource.
“It was easy to go on the Autism Speaks website and easy to set up a donation page.”
In addition to financial donors, Janssen is also getting support from a pair of friends who will run the GoodLife half-marathon that will also take place Sunday, Oct. 9, outside the B.C. Legislature. The three women have designed team T-shirts bearing the slogan Including Roan and will each wear them for their respective runs.
Because the women are running in separate events, they were unable to register as an official fundraising team, Janssen said. But she has already made it a goal to assemble a team to run the marathon for Autism Speaks Canada in the future.
“The goal of the whole thing is to promote awareness of autism,” she said.
Janssen said she has been involved in the special needs community and served as an advocate since her son was diagnosed.
She said one in 42 boys is diagnosed with ASD, meaning most people know somebody who has been impacted.
“What’s neat is how the whole community rallied in support of my cause. Obviously all these people want to help. They just didn’t know how or where to look.”
To contribute to Janssen’s campaign, visit www.autismspeakscanada. Click the “Donate” link at the top of the page and then the “Support an Event Participant” link on the donation page to input Janssen’s name in the search field.