20th annual Autism Walk helps the Summit Center continue to serve WNYers

Local News
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Thousands of walkers braved the damp and cold weather Saturday morning to help raise money for the Summit Center.

“It’s a program that serves a variety of people with developmental concerns including autism. We serve about 2,300 kids a year, and adults as well, in a variety of programs and services,” explained Stephen Anderson, CEO of the Summit Center.

Those services make a huge difference for people like six-year-old Layla Lester.

She was non-verbal before she came to the Summit Center, and now it’s a very different story.

In fact, she did some very memorable talking last October when she thought a bride at Akron Falls Park was Cinderella.

Community members donated money to send the Lesters to Disney World to meet all the real Disney princesses last fall. Click here to see our coverage of that special Disney trip.

Even this weekend, as community members came together to donate to the Summit Center, there was some Disney magic in the air. At one point Saturday morning, an acapella group from UB sang a Disney song medley to Layla, who danced along while waiting for the walk to begin.

Layla’s mom, Jessica, credits the Summit Center with helping bring out Layla’s vibrant spirit and skills.

“She can speak, she scripts a lot; she can read,” Jessica Lester said. “And they’ve taught her so many things that we’re not sure if she would have learned without Summit, honestly, because they taught us how to teach her.”

Jessica Lester says the Summit Center also provides a sense of community with other families who have similar challenges and needs.

“It’s a hard life,” Lester pointed out. “There are meltdowns. There are trials and tribulations that most neurotypical families would go through.”

Saturday morning, Layla Lester was all smiles as her team hit the sidewalks for this year’s walk.

Walkers were hoping to raise $300,000 at this 20th annual event.

“We do a lot of different things and we don’t always have the funding we need,” Anderson explained. “It helps with our early intervention, starting early. It helps with our adult programs. It helps with our behavioral health services for those kids that have autism and some kind of emotional concern as well, so we need this walk and we need the income of it.”

If you missed this year’s walk and you’d still like to donate, click here to give.

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