Ethan Hemry, with counselor Rendi Turner, reaches out to pet one of two ponies at the Hormel Historic Home at last year's first ever Circle of Friends Day Camp. -- Herald file photo

Archived Story

Austin family fights autism

Published 8:31am Thursday, April 7, 2011

When Danny Muzik celebrates his birthday, the occasion takes a back seat to another event — his autism awareness fundraiser.

Muzik started the fundraiser last year for his son, Quincy, who has autism. Now, Muzik’s efforts are timely; they coincide with his own birthday and April’s Autism Awareness Month. His fundraiser takes place from 8 p.m. April 12 and goes until 1 a.m. at Torge’s live.

“It was kind of one of those things: What can I do as a parent to contribute some?”

Last year, Muzik and guests raised $3,200 to help start the Circle of Friends Day Camp, a week-long camp for autistic kids in first- through fifth-grade at the Hormel Historic Home.

And because the camp was a success last fall, with registrations filed for all 25 available positions, they’re doing it again this year and expanding to create a camp for kids in grades six through 12th.

Muzik’s fundraiser helps to bring area autism professionals to the camp, too, such as those with experience in the schools or at Austin Medical Center. Although Muzik knows it’s tough to coordinate efforts where a lot of people can gather to raise a lot of money, he’s more concerned about the awareness.

“If it raises some awareness and causes people to contact the Hormel Home, the money raised isn’t that important,” he said.

But with increasing awareness and knowledge of autism, the need may be greater than initially thought.

“There’s really a lot of need for this camp in the community,” said Laura Helle, Hormel Historic Home’s executive director. “Before that, the closest day camp was in the cities. We just think there’s s a lot of potential to help kids in the region.”

Helle said parents and kids from last year’s event wanted the event to expand for those who would be too old to attend this year. So the camp for sixth- through 12th-graders will run this summer. Because the events are months away, event planners use the time to gather info on their participants.

Families can fill out detailed packets about what their children enjoy and how they respond to different activities. That information helps coordinators plan the event around the participants and learn from them as well.

Last year, kids performed science and building projects, outdoor activities and social activities around town, such as library and restaurant visits. Helle said the visits are good for the kids to learn patience skills, and for coordinators to learn specifically how each child reacts differently.

The education the kids receive can transfer to their lives at home. But for parents, there’s more they can still learn before April is over.

The Hormel Historic Home is in the midst of a community education series, with videos, presentations and discussions about autism. Several more series are available to attend before the month’s end.

As for the day camp, Circle of Friends runs through the week of Aug. 1 to Aug. 5. As of Wednesday, Helle said the camp still had 10 openings. Contact the Hormel Historic Home for registration info at 507-433-4243.

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