Jonah Weintraub was 8 years old when his parents told him he had Asperger’s, a form of high functioning autism.
“Instead of it being negative, he turned it into a positive,” said his mom, Jennifer.
Jonah, now 10, decided to make autism his platform and created a fundraiser: Jonah’s Cookies for Autism. He baked puzzle piece cookies, decorated them blue, and gave the proceeds to Autism Speaks, an autism science and advocacy organization.
“Autism Speaks’ signature is a puzzle piece and the color blue,” said Kelli Embler, Carolinas executive director of Autism Speaks.
“My nails were blue forever,” said Jennifer, 40, after helping Jonah make 400 iced blue cookies.
The Weintraub’s goal was to raise $500. In one week, they made cookies, signs, a fundraising thermometer, and T-shirts. They took to Facebook and sold cookies at Stonecrest shopping center.
They raised $16,000.
Embler heard about Jonah’s Cookies for Autism and thought, “Who is this incredible family? They amazed me.”
When it was time to think about organizing the third annual Light It Up Blue gala fundraiser for Autism Speaks, Embler thought of Jennifer. Embler knew Jennifer could take the gala into the community and corporate world not just to the families who were involved in the organization.
Jennifer and her husband Mark, 44, co-owners of J&Z Entertainment, agreed to co-chair Light It Up Blue.
“The Weintraubs have taken the gala and given it a humongous face lift,” Embler said. “They have made it a lot of fun.”
Jennifer said “Mark’s goal was to raise $50,000.
They have already raised $75,000 and have about 300 people attending.
“No one ever says ‘no’ when it comes to autism,” Jennifer said.
Embler is hoping the gala raises $100,000 to support the work of Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks has four pillars, which are science and research, advocacy, awareness, and family services, Embler said.
In 2012, Autism Speaks committed $1.5 million in the Carolinas to fund autism research. Autism Speaks advocates work state by state to help pass insurance reform and creates awareness of autism spectrum disorders.
“Autism is so prevalent in today’s world,” Jennifer said. “Everyone is affected by it in some capacity.”
According to the Light It Up Blue website, www.lightitupbluegala.com, one in 70 children in N.C. are diagnosed with autism.
Jennifer is passionate about awareness, early detection and intervention.
“When you feel there is something wrong with your child, you are right,” said Jennifer. “It’s all about becoming aware. Early intervention is the only hope that these kids have. Jonah would not be where he is if I didn’t start with him at 18 months old.”
Although he is too young to attend the gala, Jonah is recruiting on YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdsOONKaiPw.
“There will be tons of things to do,” Jonah said. “You can dance, have fun, eat, especially that one. You can support autism, which is the most important.”
“This is not your everyday gala,” Jennifer said. “We’re going to be celebrating autism.”
Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer for South Charlotte News. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at email@example.com
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