April may not bring showers to the Old Pueblo, but spring is in full swing with plenty of sunshine and a deluge of fundraising walks.
Over the next few weekends, Tucsonans can choose from a smorgasbord of causes — including autism awareness and healthy lungs — while striding outside.
“With the Piece the Puzzle Autism Walk, an important part of it is getting out in the community and raising awareness about autism: We want it to be visible and want people to realize where they can go to find information and resources,” said Pete Schwarz, board president for the nonprofit Autism Society Greater Tucson.
The need for public awareness is particularly relevant in Arizona, which Schwarz said ranks above the national average with an incidence of autism in one of every 64 children.
Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published research indicating that the prevalence of autism has increased by 30 percent nationally since 2012; from one in 88 children to one in 68 .
About 1.2 million people under age 21 are affected by the disorder, defined as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact.
Schwarz said, “The experts generally agree on two components: genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger that activates the disorder … it seems that some kids have a susceptibility to autism, and just a low level of environmental trigger — perhaps some chemical in food or the environment that is innocuous for most of the population — triggers autism.”
The Autism Society offers advocacy, education, support, research and services, including a website, a library with hundreds of books and videos, workshops and classes.
Support services include resources for parents and siblings as well as social opportunities for those with autism such as Lego Club and Sensory-Friendly Films at local movie theaters.
The walk raised $50,000 last year.
Advocacy, education and research to save lives and improve lung health are also core services supported by funds — the projected goal this year is $92,000 — raised at the Tucson Fight for Air Walk, says Amber Mazzei, executive director of the American Lung Association Arizona Tucson office.
Mazzei said more than 200,000 Southern Arizonans suffer from chronic lung disease such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as chronic bronchitis and emphysema), lung cancer and other lung ailments.
The ALA Tucson Office offers a diverse range of education and services for all ages, including smoking cessation programs; “Open Airways for Schools,” an in-school asthma education program that teaches children to manage their asthma to minimize time out of class; Better Breathers Clubs to help improve quality of life for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and Camp Not-A-Wheeze, a summer camp in Prescott for children ages seven to 14 with moderate to severe asthma.
The camp is staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists.
“These are kids who would not tend to otherwise go to camps because of their limitations. This allows them to ride horses, perform skits and do all of the activities kids do at summer camp while being medically monitored,” Mazzei said. “About 85 percent of the kids who attend do so on scholarship, so funds raised during the Fight for Air Walk are an important part of that support.”