Students Organize Fundraiser For Autism Awareness

Sean Hogan, teacher Tim Hogan, Chloe Berwick, Chelsea Berwick, and teachers Stacey Gregorakis and Mary Collins. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  HOWELL – After a five-year absence, Howell High School brought back its “Colors For Autism Color Run” thanks in large part to two members of the senior class.

  Twin sisters Chelsea and Chloe Berwick collaborated with members of the faculty to bring back the charity event to benefit POAC, a local organization that provides training and services for the autism community and their families.

  The main event was a three-kilometer run/walk around the grounds of Howell High School’s athletic fields, but was preceded by an energetic Zumba workout to get participants “warmed up.”

  Last held in 2017, the event went dormant after that, and any thought of reviving it was completely shut down by the pandemic in the last two years. But with restrictions easing and COVID numbers declining earlier in the year, the impetus to bring the event back to Howell High School was rekindled in January, thanks to the Berwick sisters.

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  “I think with the issues with the pandemic and everything, it was tough to get it up to speed again,” said Chelsea Berwick, “but we’re excited to bring it back this year. It seems like it’s a really big event that a lot of people are excited about, so we’re happy to have it back at Howell.”

Chelsea (left) and Chloe (right), the organizers of the event. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  The Berwick sisters have a long history of extra-curricular involvement and community service. Both are in the National Honor Society, with Chelsea serving as the president. Both began their road of community involvement at a young age, involved with scouting, and as founding members of their church’s youth group. They have been involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as Relay For Life.

  “I think it’s just kind of who they are,” said Tricia Berwick, describing her daughters. “They love to just give back and do community service, which is great. Just the fact that they’re thinking of others.”

  Howell High School runs the Autism Spectrum Program, which encourages acceptance and support by teaching others about the unique challenges those with autism and their families must face.

  “I did the Interact program my freshman year,” said Chloe. “During gym, they have a program where you can walk with the students in the autism program on the track. I had made a really great relationship with the student who I was working with. So, to have the opportunity to do this, and to see them again, and to form those same relationships again is really important to me.”

  “We have the autism program here at the high school and it’s a big part of the school,” explained Chelsea. “We see the kids in the hallway every day. They deserve to have a day all for them, and enjoy an awesome day.”

  Statistically, males in America are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than females. Tim Hogan, a teacher at Howell High whose son Sean is on the autism spectrum, has been one of the mentors for the Berwicks. Along with Hogan, teachers Mary Collins and Stacey Gregorakis were instrumental in helping bring the Autism Color Run back to Howell High School.

  Following the run, the event continued with live music performed by students, with games, crafts and activities at various booths set up by participating clubs and sports at the school. But while there was some guidance and direction provided by the faculty at the high school, everyone agreed that the charity event would not have taken place without the initiative and efforts of the Berwick sisters.

HHS principal Jeremy Braverman gets hit with paint by his children. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  “We told them you still have two years of high school left [and] you’re going to get out of it what you put into it,” said Jeff Berwick, recalling a conversation he had with Chelsea and Chloe prior to the start of his daughters’ junior year at the school. “Put in all you can, so that when you look back, you’ll be satisfied that you got as much out of your high school career as you possibly could. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. It’s incredible.”

  The charity event raised over two thousand dollars, with the entirety of the registration fees going to POAC.

  “We’re just really happy to bring it back to our school,” said Chelsea. “It’s incredible to see all the students, administrators, and teachers so excited to be here, and to see an event come to fruition. It’s been an honor to be able to do it with my sister and with the teachers that we’re working with.”

Registration at the front gate of the event. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  In 2020, the CDC has estimated that 5.4 million adults in America are on the autism spectrum. According to POAC, New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the United States, and it is estimated that one out of every 35 children born today will have autism.