To help kick off National Autism Awareness Month, premium Swiss chocolatier, Lindt USA announces today the 2011 Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism honorees: Kerri Duncan of Springfield, Mo., Connie Erbert of Wichita, Kan., and Bonnie Gillman of Tustin, Calif. The third annual Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism program – part of the company's partnership with Autism Speaks, North America's largest autism science and advocacy organization, during the Easter season – honors ordinary individuals who are extraordinary champions for those affected by autism in their family, home and community.
Selected from an impressive pool of applicants, the 2011 winners all demonstrated an unwavering passion for the autism cause and commitment to offering supportive programs and resources to their communities. Duncan, Erbert and Gillman were all nominated by individuals whose lives have been positively impacted through the honorees' work. In recognition of their efforts Lindt awarded each $5,000, which all honorees plan to give to their respective program or organization.
"We are excited to honor this year's Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism, all of whom have devoted themselves to building and providing better community resources for those affected by autism," said Thomas Linemayr, president and CEO of Lindt USA. "We're proud to give these extraordinary individuals the recognition they deserve."
The 2011 Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism:
- Kerri Duncan of Springfield, Mo. saw the need in her community to provide quality educational opportunities for those with autism. In 2000 she opened the Rivendale Center for Autism and Institute of Learning and now serves as the school's director. The Center serves 45 students annually, and is the only private school for children with autism in southwest Missouri specializing in behavior therapy and intensive individualized instruction. Over the last decade, Duncan has expanded the Center to provide a training space for students and professionals looking to become involved in autism-related work. She also recently partnered with Specialized Education Services Inc. (SESI), to give the Center's programs national reach to more than 40 schools in 11 states.
- Connie Erbert of Wichita, Kan. has devoted her entire professional career to improving the lives of those impacted by autism. Currently, she serves as the director of the Community of Autism Resources and Education program (CARE) at Heartspring, which she founded in 2007. Today, the program is utilized by more than 700 families in the Wichita area and offers consultation services to businesses and school districts. In the spring of 2008, Erbert started the first walk for autism awareness in the Wichita area, which has raised more than $120,000 to date. That same year, she established Camp SSTAR (Social Skills Technology Art and Recreation) to provide children with Asperger's and high functioning autism the opportunity to participate in a camp experience. Erbert has also traveled to Beijing in an effort to train and assist teachers at the Stars and Rain school for children with autism.
- Bonnie Gillman of Tustin, Calif., inspired by her 11-year-old grandson, saw a critical role grandparents of children with autism could play in supporting their families. In 2006, Gillman founded the Grandparent Autism Network (GAN), a first-of-its-kind all-volunteer nonprofit organization in Orange County, Calif. dedicated to supporting and providing resources to grandparents of children with autism. Since 2006, she has personally planned and provided 42 cost-free events for GAN's 800 members, their families, and the 34 communities she serves in the county. Gillman also developed and maintains the GAN website, which is accessed by people in more than 80 countries who seek guidance and information about autism and advocacy issues for grandparents.
Nominations for this year's Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism were reviewed by a panel of judges from Lindt and Parents magazine. In addition to being awarded $5,000, the three honorees received a trip to New York courtesy of Lindt to attend an awards luncheon in their honor at The New York Palace hotel, and will be celebrated by Lindt at events within their local communities during the month of April.
In addition to the Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism program, Lindt has partnered with Autism Speaks for a third year during the Easter season to support those affected by autism and to raise funds and awareness for the cause. Now through Easter, Lindt will donate 10 cents to Autism Speaks for every Lindt Gold Bunny purchased and consumers can also support the cause by sending free Lindt e-cards to family and friends for Easter. Available at LindtGoldBunny.com, Lindt will donate $1 to Autism Speaks for every e-card sent. Through April 9, 2011 Lindt is also hosting an online auction of celebrity autographed Lindt Gold Bunny porcelain figurines at www.ebay.com/LindtGoldBunny, with 100 percent of proceeds benefitting Autism Speaks.