By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
Although it was a dark and cloudy day that threatened rain at any moment, smiles shined bright on the afternoon of April 30. While music played over a large sound system, a group of approximately 100 Tulalip citizens socialized, danced, and munched on delicious salty and sweet kettle corn outside of the Don ‘Penoke’ Hatch Teen Center, eagerly waiting for the main event to begin.
“Normally, we couldn’t come to an event like this because Jared isn’t good with lots of people and loud noises,” emotionally expressed Tulalip mother, Kristie Fryberg. “But because this is for him, it’s awesome. It feels really good. My family, we’re all excited to come out and do this. I just know the more we talk about it, the more it’s going to be better for him when he becomes an adult and we can’t be here for him.”
Every April, communities around the country focus their efforts on a shared goal of raising awareness and providing support to individuals who have been diagnosed with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopment disorder that reportedly affects 25 million people globally and impacts each person in a different manner. The disorder is known largely to present a challenge in the early childhood development phase of life, particularly when it comes to communication and sensory sensitivity.
Several programs answered the call when the Youth and Family Enrichment Manager, Josh Fryberg, began planning the end-of-the-month celebration including, the Tulalip Boys and Girls Club, Jared’s Corner, the Tulalip Police Department, the Tulalip Bay Fire Department and Leah’s Dream Foundation.
“When you have a child and they are diagnosed with autism or any disability, you feel alone,” said Founder of Leah’s Dream Foundation, Deanna Sheldon, as Leah happily found amusement in a bubble wand. “With something like this, where you see the community coming together for a greater good to create awareness, it’s really fantastic and an honorable feeling. With autism or any disability, there’s isn’t any one thing. Any child can look neurotypical but with autism there’s so many hidden layers; some children may not talk, some children may have sensory issues or whatnot. This is a great way for Leah’s Dream to embrace our community and raise awareness and show people we are all not the same.”
Leah’s Dream Foundation was established in 2015 by Deanna and family when her daughter was diagnosed with autism. The funds raised by the non-profit goes directly towards resources, sensory items and toys, parties, gifts and activity packages for local children and young adults living with autism and special needs. The foundation also awards grants to the Marysville School District to help autistic students succeed in school, by ensuring they are afforded adequate curriculums, programs, tools and supplies during their educational journey.
Joyous laughter erupted across the youth center’s campus as the group enjoyed each other’s company. Turquoise event t-shirts were thrown over everyday attire to proudly display the garment’s messaging that read, ‘Fighting for Autism’.
The event was chiefly organized by the Tulalip Youth and Family Enrichment program, who called upon their community, local organizations and a handful of departments from the Tribe to present a fun-filled day to not only raise awareness, but more importantly, to celebrate the unique, loving individuals living with autism within the community, who continue to teach us in more ways than we know on a daily basis.
Upon seeing the turn-out for the afternoon gathering, Tulalip Youth and Family Enrichment Activity Specialist, Anthony Mclean shared, “It’s really heartwarming to get so much support and to raise awareness for a good thing. This is a good gathering for us to be together and see everyone’s faces. It’s nice to have all the departments come together as one, just to show the Tribe we can work together on something positive.”
Masked-up, signs in-hand and led by a TPD escort, the participants took a step for the cause, walking from the youth center to the Katherine ‘Molly’ Hatch Senior Center, where the collective stopped to offer a traditional song to the elders. In a moving moment, the elders shared knowledgeable and encouraging words in return to the group, thanking them for the song and spending some time.
After exchanging good-byes, the people made their way back to the teen center to enjoy the rest of the afternoon together. Upon return, a special ‘happy birthday’ solo-dance-performance was dedicated to Tyler Fryberg, who thoroughly enjoyed the moves of his friend, Kai Holmes, as he got down in front of the brand new kettle corn truck, while the popcorn chef himself added some background vocals to Kai’s dance recital.
“This was all Josh Fryberg,” said the Founder of Jared’s Corner, Jared Parks. “He’s the one who reached out to me about the Autism Walk. I told him I’d come out and donate about 400-800 free bags of kettle corn, because that’s what we want to do is give back to the community and raise more awareness for autism.”
In case you didn’t know the origin of Jared’s Corner, Jared Parks and Kristie Fryberg began the kettle corn business in honor of their 7-year-old son, who shares the same name as his father. Kristie is often quick to admit that her son’s autistic diagnosis changed her entire family’s perspective on life, ultimately bringing everybody closer together to rally behind and support Jared throughout his journey.
“That’s why we created this, to give back in this way,” Kristie shared. “This is exactly what we talked about when starting it, to have days at the Tribe where we can give away free popcorn, have the kids gather, and to give back to those people who spend time with our children and are helping them, the therapists and the teachers.”
Over a few short months, Jared’s Corner has grown from a small popcorn stand to a full-blown food truck where the Parks family can whip-up, bag-up and hand-out large quantities of their kettle corn, which comes in a variety of flavors. A portion of all their proceeds are donated to a number of pro-autism programs and foundations to continue raising awareness.
“We want to let the people know we really appreciate their support,” said Jared. “Even if it’s just five bucks here and there, it’s created this – a bigger trailer. It’s created the ‘Autism Awareness Mobile’ and I’m going to be everywhere, Microsoft, T-Mobile. I’m going to be crossing boundaries and representing Tulalip in a good way.”
Prior to this year’s walk, Jared Sr. shared a few words about his son exclaiming, “I don’t call it a disability, my son has a superpower!”
The collaborative walking event was the perfect way to cap-off Autism Awareness Month, as well as a great opportunity to set-off a chain of upcoming summer events geared toward inclusion, raising awareness and supporting our loved ones living with autism. Tulalip Youth and Family Enrichment intends on hosting events every-other-week alternating between field days and gym days, Leah’s Dream Foundation will hold their annual Golf Tournament fundraiser on July 17 this year, and the Parks family has plans of expansion, raising awareness one kettle corn order at a time.
“It felt good just walking together, coming together to raise awareness for autism and for our kids with disabilities,” said Josh. “I think for a lot of us, it felt really good seeing a lot of our youth we haven’t seen in a while. It was a sense of unity, coming together in a safe and friendly way. With COVID going on, everyone was masked-up, we had our temp-readers in the front when everyone came in. The words I’d like to share is just continue to be yourself. Continue to do the best that you can do. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. For us, as adults, let’s help as much as we can and let’s continue to raise awareness and provide as much as we can for our youth and community members. We’re here for you, we love you and if you need anything please let us know. It’s going to take every one of us to make that difference.”