May 3, 2023

Community Walk for Autism Led by Philadelphia Eagles Autism Foundation College Program at WCU Prior to Traditional Spring Football Scrimmage

WCU D-CAP students (pictured l to r) Emma Billingsley and Brendan Keller sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” to officially open the University’s traditional Spring Football Scrimmage.

Prior to the University’s traditional Spring Football Scrimmage on Friday, April 28, the Philadelphia Eagles Autism Foundation College Program at West Chester University (WCU) hosted an indoor Walk for Autism that drew more than 100 neighbors and friends to Sturzebecker Health Science Center Gym on South Campus. Lines of people, including members of the Golden Rams football team, walked the perimeter of the indoor gym for a total of 44 minutes. The walk’s length of time around the gym signified the fact that one in 44 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The walk culminated the official end of Autism Acceptance Month at WCU and raised $1,775.00 for the Philadelphia Eagles Autism Foundation.

Among those participating in the Walk for Autism were West Chester University students and alumni from the D-CAP program; D-CAP provides supports to degree-seeking West Chester University students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

One D-CAP alumnus, Alex LoGiudice, said he would not miss his 2nd alumni weekend and the walk; he and his mother, Kathy O’Brien, drove from Holmdel, NJ, so Alex could participate.

“Alex is very attached to the D-CAP Program, especially to its director, Cherie Fishbaugh,” O’Brien said. “This will be our yearly activity. He always likes to come back to campus. D-CAP is like his fraternity! There is no other program like it around and I’m so glad that we found it. Alex earned his master’s in history from WCU and now he is just six credits away from his master’s in archiving and library information.”

Transfer student, Alex Miracle, a current member of D-CAP and a resident of Chambersburg, PA, concurred with O’Brien about the uniqueness of the D-CAP Program. “When I was growing up, there was no program like D-CAP helping to bridge the gap, while making sure that kids were not stigmatized. Thanks to the program, we get to socialize with people like us and feel accepted at a place that is safe; that is rare. The people here care. I really believe in this program.”

Student members of the Philadelphia Eagles Autism College Program at WCU checked in all Walk for Autism participants. Pictured (l to r) are Katelyn Graybeal, Aubry Horner, Fiona O’Rourke, and Violet Lindsay.The student members of the Philadelphia Eagles Autism Foundation College Program at West Chester University who checked in walkers for the event echoed Miracle’s thoughts. “It’s important to spread awareness about autism and to let people know that autistic children are able to participate in events like neuro-typical people do,” said Violet Lindsay, a special education major who is a junior at the University.

“Having an inclusive campus is important for our students, faculty, staff, and community alike,” says Director of Autism Services/Dub-C Autism Program Cherie Fishbaugh. “Our events are designed to welcome all.”

Following the walk, participants were eager to attend the next highlight of the evening the traditional WCU Golden Rams Spring Football Scrimmage at Farrell Stadium. Prior to kickoff, fans stood to hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung by D-CAP students Emma Billingsley and Brendan Keller.

During half-time, Special Needs Touchdowns were made by Vinnie Bertotti, whose parent works at West Chester University, and Austin Shirlow, the brother of a West Chester University student, amidst a burst of cheers from fans in the stands.

RAM (Real Achievement Matters) Initiative student Zach Breiner, an intern with the West Chester University Golden Rams Football team, was also a standout during the evening as he made a pass. The night was extra special for Zach as he will receive a Ram Initiative certificate of completion during commencement later this month. The RAM Initiative Program at WCU welcomes 2-3 non-degree seeking students with intellectual disabilities per year. These 2-3 RAM Initiative students have a full college-immersion experience at WCU and receive certificates of completion upon finishing the program.

“They are all great kids,” Head Football Coach Bill Zwaan said. “Everything we do at West Chester University is for students, every one of them,” he said. “Sometimes just being on the field can make all the difference. Everybody deserves a win and that’s what we’re all about.”

More than 100 members of the community, including the Golden Rams Football team, participated in the recent Walk for Autism at West Chester University.Throughout the game, student members of the University’s chapter of the Philadelphia Eagles Foundation were on hand selling fidget spinners, beanies, wristbands, and other merchandise. Also featured was a raffle basket table that included a signed Jordan Mailata football. To date, more than $5,500.00 has been raised by the chapter for the Eagles Autism Challenge.

Approximately 20 D-CAP students and members of the University’s chapter of the Philadelphia Eagles Foundation will attend the sixth annual Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group on May 20 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Throughout the month of April, Autism Acceptance Month at WCU featured numerous activities including volunteering at the annual Huddle Up for Autism at the Lincoln Financial Field; hosting outdoor games during the Ram Shop Communitywide Celebration; showing off talents during a D-CAP Talent Show in Sykes Student Union; hosting Neuro-Inclusive Campus Events; and much more.

“Tonight, and throughout the entire month of April, our community came out to cheer on our students in full force,” said Fishbaugh. “I know our students feel supported and empowered.”

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