Econ Department from The U leads the way in raising money, awareness for Sioux Falls Walk for Autism Now event

VERMILLION, S.D. -- The University of South Dakota Department of Economics is “walking the walk” when it comes to raising money and awareness for autism. Twenty-three members of the department, from faculty and staff to several students, have joined together for the second straight year to raise funds for Walk Now for Autism, a signature fundraising and awareness event for Autism Speaks, on Saturday, Oct. 3 at Sioux Falls Stadium in Sioux Falls, S.D.

By raising close to $5,000 in a little less than two weeks, the USD Team currently sits atop the list of total fundraising teams for the Walk Now for Autism Speaks Sioux Falls event, but, more importantly, it means that the team is on target to raise more money than they did last year.

"I think donors see students participating in an annual philanthropic event which doesn't earn them credits, grades, bonus points or other perks, and can feel good about supporting us," noted Mandie Weinandt, a graduate student at The U from Dakota Dunes, S.D. "They see we are doing good things for the right reasons and are happy to help the cause."

Weinandt has a personal stake in raising money and awareness for autism. Her 10-year-old brother is autistic and even though public schools are improving their care and education for students with autism, there’s still a need to improve resources in the classroom.

"Autism Speaks raises money for research, awareness and tools that parents and schools can use to help deal with the challenges faced with this issue," she explained. "My brother had a very hard time adapting to ‘regular’ school and his teachers weren't very understanding about his needs."

Fortunately, Weinandt pointed out, her family was able to afford a private school which has helped her brother’s growth and development, and placed him in an environment for success. However, not all families are as fortunate. “Which makes the funds raised through Walk Now for Autism that much more important,” she added.

David Carr, an assistant professor of economics at USD, didn't have a hard time finding students or staff to help this cause for a second consecutive year. He was surprised, though, at the generosity of the public given these troubling economic times. Raising as much as or more than the $5,190 the team collected last year seemed unrealistic, but that hasn't been the case.

"We're going to exceed last year's total, and that's just fantastic," said Carr, whose 6 year-old son, Joseph, has autism. "It really comes as no surprise because our students are interested in doing something for the whole community. They view this as a service-learning project, and they really want to help."

The goal for the USD Econ Dept. is to raise $6,000, which is about $1,000 more than last year when they were the No. 2 fundraising team on the list and collected a little more than $5,000. As of Oct. 1, the group had raised $5,300 placing them first among all teams in the entire state.

USD Walk Now for Autism team members include Carr and his wife, Carolyn, and their children Alexandra, Joe and Stephanie; Mike Allgrunn, assistant professor of economics; Tom Davies, associate dean of the Beacom School of Business, and his wife, Karen, chief financial officer for the USD Foundation; Randall Waldron, associate professor of economics; and students Mandie Weinandt, Amanda Barton, Zachary Cattell, Joseph Cooch, Alexa Duling, Tracy Elsen, Zach Flood, Eric Hesla, Nick Honke, Jaime Spomer, Matthew Tysdal, Lauren VanGerpen and Kelly Wismer. Former student Anne Doshier, now living in Sioux Falls and part of last year's fundraising team from USD, is also part of the USD Econ Dept. team in 2009.

For more about Team USD or to submit a donation, please go to www.walknowforautism.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=306219&lis=1&kntae306219=0D5DE5E615534960A4EE624D611DA1C5&supId=0&team=3446363&cj=Y.

To view the Walk Now for Autism Sioux Falls homepage, visit: www.walknowforautism.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=306219&lis=1&kntae306219=0D5DE5E615534960A4EE624D611DA1C5.

A photograph of members of the USD Econ Dept. from last year's Walk Now for Autism event featuring team members Mary Ring (left), Ray Ring, Tom Davies, Karen Davies, and Joseph and David Carr is available for download at www.usd.edu/urelations/images/USD_WalkNow_Team.jpg.