Pittsfield shows true blue support for autism at Park Square awareness event

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Photo Gallery | 'Light It Up Blue' at Park Square for Autism awareness

PITTSFIELD — Blue is bleeding out from a South Street center-point to locations all around the city, hopefully raising a few questions in the process.

Lighting, flags, banners posters — all blue, comprise a demonstration meant to raise awareness about autism through the month of April, Autism Awareness Month.

Numerous businesses and city buildings are donning the color as part of the demonstration, organized by Hillcrest Educational Centers.

A kickoff event took place in Park Square on Friday despite windy, wet conditions. All the lighting in Park Square will be blued, courtesy Limelight Productions Inc.

"Autism is not an affliction or a disease," Shaun Cusson, executive director of HEC, said. "Autistic people are very proud, talented, vibrant. But they need our support. People need to understand what autism is and what it is not."

It marked the second year the lights in Park Square and at HEC were changed in honor of autism awareness. Autism Speaks, a national advocacy group, runs a global campaign with the same intention, called Light It Up Blue.

According to an HEC press release, more than 10,000 businesses, landmarks and homes in 136 countries participated in the event. Major landmarks displaying awareness blue included the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls, the Sydney Opera House, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the International Space Station.

Prior to the Park Square kickoff, Downtown Pittsfield Inc. hosted an art show and resource fair on autism, which included refreshments and art and music provided by disabled students.

"Parents who have a child with a disability need a lot of support," Salvatore A. Garozzo, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy, said at Downtown Pittsfield Inc. "They're very tired. It's a drain on families to have to manage so many things."

Garozzo and others were there representing organizations that offer much-needed help, even in navigating health insurance, negotiating with provider agencies and other everyday challenges.

Once awareness reaches people, they tend to be willing to help.

"It took only a few short meetings to organize this," said Kartrina Cardillo, HEC director of communications. "The lights will be up in Park Square and City Hall for the entire month of April, and at a variety of other storefronts on the street."

Standing in the center of Park Square surrounded by a crowd of roughly 100, Cusson said, "Awareness is absolutely critical; we have to spread the word. All the people in these cars are saying, 'What's going on?' There are a tremendous amount of people who don't know what autism is. Awareness shapes understanding, understanding shapes policy and funding."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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