A light on autism | AspenTimes.com

A light on autism

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
Aspen Mountain was cast in a blue glow with white puzzle pieces symbolizing the mystery and complexity of the autism spectrum during the Light it up Blue Gala in 2013.
Courtesy photo |




Aspen will bask in a blue glow once again tonight to shine the light of awareness on autism.

The third annual Light It Up Blue Aspen Gala is set for 6 p.m. tonight at the Hotel Jerome, and this year the hotel will be cast in blue light for the event.

The gala not only raises awareness about the autism spectrum — it’s an opportunity to raise funds for the local nonprofit Extreme Sports Camp for Autism and the national nonprofit Autism Speaks.

Light It Up Blue kicks off internationally in April as part of Autism Awareness Month. Aspen begins its celebration a month and a half early to take advantage of more people being in town to attend the Light It Up Blue Gala.

There’s no lack of star power for the 2014 event. Special celebrity guests include Jacqueline Laurita from the television show “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and Ari and Andrea Lee Greenburg, of Los Angeles. There’s also going to be live music from My Brother’s Keeper, featuring John Popper, of Blues Traveler fame.

“We’re really excited to welcome such wonderful guests this year,” said Sheryl Barto, the founder of O Communications. “Having Brother’s Keeper perform is going to be awesome.”

Laurita and her family have been very active campaigning for autism awareness through Autism Speaks since Laurita’s youngest son was diagnosed with autism in 2012.

Ari Greenburg is a partner at the William Morris Endeavor, a talent and literary agency based in Beverly Hills, Calif.; New York; Nashville, Tenn.; Miami; and London. Greenburg heads the agency’s industry-leading television group and oversees a team of agents representing writers, directors, actors and producers.

The Greenburgs live in Los Angeles with their two children, Tyler and Avery. Tyler was diagnosed with autism when he was 20 months old.

“Fundraising is one of the most important things we can do to show that our son and all the people living within the autism spectrum disorder matter,” Andrea Lee Greenburg said. “Besides raising much-needed awareness and funds to lobby for changes in early intervention, scientific research and demanding more government funding and legislation, it’s our family’s way to truly spotlight not only the everyday challenges we go through to support all of Tyler’s needs but to truly celebrate him.”

My Brother’s Keeper has a distinct local feel, with valley residents Michael Jude on vocals and bass and John Michel on vocals and drums. Jono Manson is a veteran musician, producer and engineer who plays guitar and sings in the band. Manson cut his teeth as a performer from the early 1980s in New York and has amassed an extensive catalog of original material. Singer-songwriter Scott Rednor is another veteran musician and is well-known in the Vail area. Rob Eaton Jr. is the youngest member of the band and plays mostly lead guitar.

Popper is best known for his work with Blues Traveler and commands attention not only for his stage presence but also for his soaring vocals and harmonica solos. Popper was instrumental in bringing My Brother’s Keeper to the gala through his relationship with Billy Rieger, who was a close friend of Popper’s and a strong supporter of autism awareness in Aspen before his death in 2011.

Patron’s Ultimat Vodka, Aspen Peak magazine and Sentient Jet, a directional aviation capital company, sponsor the gala.

Sentient Jet not only is donating a $10,000 flight card for the live auction with the entire winning bid going directly to Light It Up Blue Aspen but also will donate $5,000 for each new Sentient Jet Card sold throughout the weekend in Aspen.

Sentient also hosted an apres-ski shopping event Saturday at Nina McLemore in Aspen and donated 15 percent of sales to Light It Up Blue Aspen.

Extreme Sports Camp celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014. Besides the flagship winter and summer sports-camp programs, the camp is expanding to offer a respite program locally in the spring and fall on Saturdays. The camp is collaborating with other local programs to expose people in the autism spectrum to music and art as well as access the area community centers.

“We’re working to build a strong community-based support system,” said Jill Pidcock, the development director and community outreach spokeswoman for the camp. “It teaches families dealing with autism-related issues how to access offerings within their communities while at the same time teaching their communities about the autism spectrum.”

The camp also is starting an adult enrichment program that takes people in their late teens and older and helps them with their transition into mainstream life. The program works on developing social and job-related skills, like interviewing and resume-creating.

“We have a lot of young kids in the autism spectrum that will enter our community in the next decade,” Pidcock said. “The onus is on us to learn about autism and how we can help integrate these kids into areas of life where they can be successful.”