SPRINGFIELD — Although puzzle pieces often symbolize efforts and projects connected to autism awareness, the contributions of this area’s Nightlight Foundation to such awareness are obvious.
The four-year-old nonprofit was spearheaded by Dave Masterson and Damien Park, but its objectives — “[addressing] lifelong living choices that support individuals with autism through affordable housing, continuing education and vocational options within their own community” — were inspired by neighbors Alex and Louisa Lee Viele. The Vieles are the parents of teenage sons Spencer, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 3, and Xander.
These days, the foundation runs the seasonal Nightlight Ice Cream stand — the former Esposito’s Water Ice — at 1020 Bethlehem Pike, Erdenheim, in partnership with Roslyn’s Nexus School. Its annual, event-based fundraiser is scheduled for April 27 from 7 to 10 p.m. at MaGerk’s Pub & Grill in Fort Washington. Profits from both fuel the foundation’s plans “to design, build, acquire and manage residential facilities that will assist adults with autism transition from at-home living into a supported and supervised long-term living environment.”
So far, Masterson says, community backing for the organization has been “outstanding.”
“We’ve had terrific support from people … both at the ice cream [shop] and for our previous fundraising events,” he adds. “Last year’s fundraiser brought in $50,000, and it might be optimistic, but we’re hoping to raise $100,000 this year.
“We’re very excited about the $20,000 grant we received from the Gerry Lenfest Legacy Fund [of the Philadelphia Foundation].”
Masterson says the Lenfest grant will go toward the foundation’s effort “to support individuals with autism through affordable housing, continuing education and employment opportunities at Nightlight Ice Cream.”
And beyond, Nightlight President Alex Viele emphasizes.
“We are extremely thankful to the Gerry Lenfest Legacy Fund for their kindness and support,” he says. “These funds will go a long way toward strengthening our vocation programs for individuals affected with Autism Spectrum Disorder, helping us to grow and serve many more families in need.”
Likewise, recent contributions to the foundation by “several other prominent Philadelphia philanthropic institutions,” Viele continues — among them, the Bray Family Foundation, Lubert Family Foundation, Timothy Maguire Foundation and Phillies Charities.
Nightlight Ice Cream, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nightlight Foundation, is another key element in the fundraising equation. The shop — staffed by volunteers and individuals affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder — opened its 2019 season on March 30 and offers a full line of Bassetts ice cream, shop-made water ice and off-site catering via the “Nightlight ice trike.”
The Nightlight shop’s opening coincided with April 2’s designation as World Autism Awareness Day and the entire month’s designation as Autism Awareness Month. But, as Nightlight Foundation spokesmen observe, the responsibilities and financial costs related to caring for individuals on the autism spectrum are a year-round concern and come with issues that span decades.
“One in 68 children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder, so chances are someone you know and love is living with ASD … [and] currently 80 percent of young adults with autism between 19 and 30 years of age are living at home,” they say. “Help us make a difference that will last a lifetime.”
Individual tickets to Nightlight Foundation’s April 27 fundraiser are $50 and include a buffet, open bar and assorted raffles. Sponsorships are available in amounts ranging from $150 (including two tickets) to $10,000 (including eight tickets). Contributions to the organization may be mailed to Nightlight Foundation, 122 Erdenheim Road, Erdenheim, PA 19038. For details about matching gifts, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
General information is posted at nightlightfoundation.com.