Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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DM names autism charity as 2004 beneficiary

Dance Marathon’s organizers announced Thursday the philanthropy’s 2004 primary beneficiary — a group they hope will not only fund a worthy cause but also increase student awareness and volunteerism.

Executive co-chairpersons Justin Ballheim and Margot Bonner said DM 2004 will benefit Helping Autistic Voices Emerge Dreams, or H.A.V.E. Dreams. The Park Ridge, Ill., based nonprofit organization helps children with autism and their families through training and structured teaching.

The program serves more than 100 children and provides after-school and weekend classes such as social skills, swimming and music therapy. It also offers a quarterly parent information and support session.

“It’s an interesting beneficiary, because in some ways it’s a medical charity and in some ways it’s a service beneficiary,” said Bonner, a Weinberg junior. “It falls very much between the two of them.”

The beneficiary decision comes a year after controversy arose when DM selected the Midtown Educational Fund, a socially-based charity.

When concerns were raised that Midtown was associated with Opus Dei, a religious organization that promotes Catholic values, organizers switched the primary beneficiary to the Chicago Urban Youth Scholarship Fund. The fund was established by DM to directly benefit Midtown students without giving money directly to the organization.

As the university’s largest student-run philanthropy, DM raised $300,700 this year for the scholarship fund.

Bonner said the executive board visited H.A.V.E. Dreams and did all the usual background checks to ensure this year’s beneficiary would not have similar issues.

“The whole board is confident that H.A.V.E. Dreams was the right choice for DM and the right choice for the student body,” she said.

Organizers said they chose H.A.V.E. Dreams because autism is in need of increased awareness, and the charity coordinates with their goal of expanding volunteer opportunities for dancers. The focus will be not only on helping H.A.V.E. Dreams financially but also providing students with volunteer opportunities at the organization.

“(Autism) demands that children receive so much special attention that volunteers will have an opportunity to make a really big difference if they want to,” said Ballheim, a Medill junior.

Dancers will be able to choose from an array of opportunities, from working one on one with the children as “Social Buddies” to behind-the-scenes work, such as designing the H.A.V.E. Dreams Web site and planning marketing strategies.

The partnership between H.A.V.E. Dreams and NU also will allow students to educate their peers about autism — a neurological disorder that interferes with the normal development of communication, social interaction and sensory development. Cases of autism have exploded since the early 1990s, and it is now reported to affect as many as 6 out of 1,000 children.

“So few people understand autism and how devastating it can be,” Ballheim said. “It’s only with increased awareness of autism that we can ever help these kids.”

Ellen Malone, the H.A.V.E Dreams liaison and the mother of a child in the program, said the organization had applied to be DM’s beneficiary in the past and is “still in shock” to be named as the primary beneficiary.

Malone said that as a relatively young organization — it was founded in 1996 — H.A.V.E. Dreams has much to gain as DM’s primary beneficiary. The funds DM raises will help pay for programming and staff.

“It’s huge for children with autism,” Malone said. “All our money goes right back to the kids.”

Malone praised DM’s past work and said H.A.V.E. Dreams will develop a close relationship with the DM board and dancers.

“We’re hoping that this is a relationship that continues year after year,” Malone said. “We’re hoping that H.A.V.E. Dreams does something for Dance Marathon, too.”

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DM names autism charity as 2004 beneficiary