The Niagara News is the community newspaper of Niagara College located in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. It is created and produced by the students of the Niagara College Journalism program.
By CERENA JOY GATILA Staff Writer Raise, respect and realize is the philosophy the world stands by every April 2 — World Autism Awareness Day. Frank Campion, mayor of Welland, and several members of the Niagara chapter of Autism Ontario were all smiles as they raised the flag on the flagpole, blowing against the wind alongside the blue City of Welland flag for the third year of marking the day. “We wanted to look at getting something on World Autism Awareness Day,” said Mike Gowan, the chapter representative for Welland and a member of Autism Ontario Niagara. “We came up with some ideas and thought that this would be a great way to raise awareness across the province and across the country.” World Autism Awareness Day was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2008; however, it was not officially recognized in Canada until Bill S-206 ensured the nation’s participation each year. “It was passed by the Senate and then by the House of Commons. It was declared to celebrate in Canada in 2012,” Gowan explained. The Niagara chapter has various events and projects planned, Gowan said. “We have fundraising events. We do a lot for the school system as well and we have a very large segment in dealing with adults on the spectrum, because everyone understands children autism, but they do grow up,” he said. Two of the main fundraising events are a dinner dance and a golf tournament coming up on May 29 for which Gowan has been responsible the last 17 years. According to Gowan, Autism Ontario has been in the Niagara region for “about 20 to 25 years and started up strong 15 years ago. What started from three to four families has now grown to hundreds.” There are 25 chapters in Autism Ontario representing various cities and areas across the province. The organization aids families and individuals who are affected by autism and advocates for them by raising awareness and providing the necessary programs and services. To formally recognize World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Ontario came up with the idea of an official flag-raising ceremony aided by parents and community members across the province in 2013. The Raise the Flag campaign was then born, also with a sponsorship by Bank of Montreal (BMO). This year, Autism Ontario’s Raise the Flag campaign has raised 550 flags across cities, towns and schools across the province for World Autism Awareness Day. The campaign’s aim is to connect to the families and communities with autism helping people across the province to open up with stories about insight, acceptance and support.