Growing up, Hilary Viegelahn always wanted to make a difference promoting a cause such as hunger or poverty.
When her nephew Jay was born and later diagnosed with autism, Viegelahn found the cause she'd been searching for.
It was Jay, the eight-year-old son of Viegelahn's older brother Jesse Streich, who inspired Viegelahn to put together the Rogers City 5K Run/Walk for Autism Speaks in conjuction with Autism Awarness Month, which will take place for the second straight year on Saturday.
Last year the event raised more than $8000 and was attended by more than 300 people.
"It's amazing (what she's doing)," Streich said of Viegelahn's efforts. "For my little sister to be inspired by my son, it's just amazing. I can't even describe what it means."
Saturday's run will begin at 10 a.m. and the walk begins at 10:15 a.m. Early registration for the event is taking place through today and costs $15. For those wishing to sign up the event, the cost is $20 and will begin at 8 a.m. at Lakeside Park Pavilion in Rogers City.
Rogers City 5K Run/Walk for Autism Speaks
When: Saturday; Run begins at 10 a.m and the walk begins at 10:15 a.m.
Where: Race begins at Lakeside Park
To sign up: visit www.rcautismrun.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or show up at Lakeside Park Pavilion at 8 a.m. Early registration is taking place until today. The cost is $15 and includes a T-shirt. After today, the cost is $20.
Viegelahn, a senior at Rogers City High School and a member of the cross country team said she was 11 or 12 when Jay was born. As Jay has gotten older, she's come to understand better what autism is and the affect it can have on families.
According to statistics from Autism Speaks, autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the United States. It affects one in 88 children and one in 54 boys.
"I didn't understand what it meant (when I was younger) and I didn't know how to deal with it. But I learned a lot as he grew," Viegelahn said. "I always wanted to make a difference with a cause and when I heard about Autism Speaks, it dawned on me that that was it. Being in cross country, I'm familiar with the races."
The planning for the race usually begins in December for Viegelahn, who asks permission from the city to hold the event and then spends the next two months gathering sponsors and getting everything organized so she can spend March and April putting the finishing touches on the whole thing. Even though she is a senior, Viegelahn said she wants to keep the race going and has been training her younger sister Hannah on what it takes to put everything together.
While Viegelahn and Streich are working to promote autism awareness in Northern Michigan, the cause has also gained support at the state level. Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley recently signed into law a package of bills that will require help insurance companies to cover childhood autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) treatment, something that isn't lost on Streich.
"My goal is to make a difference, even if it's just one grandparent or parent who's able to understand their child better because autism is a big part of our family," Streich said. "People are more aware of now because there are adults writing books and doing documentaries that have autism."