Columbia, Missouri’s annual Bowling for Autism fundraiser hit its 20th anniversary earlier this spring, adding about $36,000 to its grand total of more than $500,000 donated over the past two decades to help families with children diagnosed with autism.
Sponsored by John Cleek Jr., Owner of APRO member Cleek’s Home Furnishings/Rentals & Sales, and his family, Bowling for Autism benefits Easterseals Midwest, a nonprofit that connects Central Missouri families with resources like therapy and counseling. Easterseals Director of Autism Services Jamie Fitzgerald said the event helps the organization provide services – including skills development that gives autistic children a higher level of independence – at no cost to families.
“Early intervention is essential for kiddos diagnosed with autism,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s really important to help them live healthy, fulfilled lives.”
John Cleek Jr.’s son, Thomas, was diagnosed with mild autism at age two and received treatments, including behavioral and speech therapy, from Easterseals Midwest. Cleek Jr. believes the services definitely improved Thomas’ quality of life.
“Thomas went to school, drives a car, graduated from high school, went to college and has had a job for about six years now,” said Cleek Jr. “He lives a very full, normal life.”
“The [Bowling for Autism] event is a lot of work to put on, but I enjoy doing it,” he concluded. “It means everything to me.”