Students fight autism, gain experience working for nonprofit agency

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
October 20, 2011

When families, friends, student volunteers and sponsors gathered at the Vigo County Fairgrounds for the fourth annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks, Matthew MacPherson felt especially tied to the cause.

"I was diagnosed with autism at a very young age," the Indiana State University student said. "I was quiet and kept to myself. School became a challenge for me. Now, I am currently in my last few semesters of college."

MacPherson joined with thousands of others at the Sept. 17 event with a goal of raising $65,000. Participants have raised almost $62,000 so far for Autism Speaks. The annual fundraising campaign for the organization continues until Dec. 31.

MacPherson, who now serves as coordinator of the Autism Speaks U Collegiate Chapter at Indiana State, helped with the event in various ways. He served on the Terre Haute planning committee with Nathan Schaumleffel, associate professor of recreation and nonprofit leadership, to set up the event and also helped the day of the walk. Schaumleffel

"Having this leadership opportunity creates a deeper motivation for me because I personally live with autism on a day-to-day basis," he said. "Being able to talk, connect and show kindness to these people provided a smile for every person and showed me why I love my leadership position."

Nearly 30 other students involved with ISU's Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (formerly American Humanics) and Autism Speak U chapter also helped with the event. Another 25 students and three faculty members from ISU's athletic training and physician assistant studies programs served as event medical staff.

"The students were participants in the walk," MacPherson said. "They also helped with the setup and tear down of the walk and assisted in the booth prior to the event."

Schaumleffel, campus executive director of ISU's Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, the program pioneered a new national model of tri-registering as the Nonprofit Leadership Student Association, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Collegiate Chapter and Autism Speaks U Collegiate Chapter.

"My students are involved year-round in Autism Speaks U fundraising, advocacy and awareness activities," Schaumleffel said. "Our students fundraising service to Autism Speaks serves as their service project for the Association of Fundraising Professionals."

Students in Schaumleffel's fundraising and program/event planning courses helped prepare for the walk. Students met with business executives to make corporate sponsorships, raised money using online and social media fundraising and planned and implemented an Autism Awareness Month event.

One month after the walk, MacPherson and other Nonprofit Leadership Alliance students participated in the ISU Homecoming Parade by marching with a parade float entry called "Spotlight on Autism."

"Needless to say, I am very proud of the positive impact that my students have through community engagement and service-learning," Schaumleffel said.

To make a donation or learn more about the walk, visit www.autismspeaks.org/u.

Contact: Matthew MacPherson, Autism Speaks U chairperson, Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, Indiana State University, mmacpherso1@sycamores.indstate.edu

Writer: Britany Dean, public relations chair, Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, Indiana State University, bdean7@sycamores.indstate.edu