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Reflections on Autism Awareness Month 2016: An Open Letter to the Shanghai Community

Dear Shanghai community,

I am really excited to tell you about the activities we have been involved in these last few weeks. As many of you know, April is World Autism Awareness Month and April 2nd is the official day. Earlier this year, we identified this month as a time to really bring our community together and raise awareness of Autism in China, among new and old friends alike.

We wanted to connect different organizations, both local and international, that are all working towards the same goal of raising awareness and supporting children with special needs in China.

My first target was the Rotary Club of Shanghai. Rotary is a service organization that upholds the highest standards for conducting service projects locally and internationally. Rotary just celebrated its 111th birthday. The Shanghai Club, which I will take over as President on July 1st of this year, will have its 100th birthday in just three years!

The second organization we brought to the table is Rotaract, Rotary’s youth division. Last year they held a charity run called “Run in Blue”. I approached them many months back and asked them if they would be interested in having the run focus on Autism Awareness. Given their amazing attitude and willingness to impact worthwhile causes, everything fell into place.

Another important partner for April was the wonderful local Special Education School in Pudong. We really wanted to do an event that showcased this incredible school and its dedicated staff. Our collective thought was how about doing an event for autism awareness at the school.

On April 2nd, we held the Autism Awareness event, and it went very well. We had more than 300 people attend the event and they really had a moving experience. The School was a terrific host and everyone from the community did so much to make the experience delightful. We had some great sponsors, like tents and Wechat photo printers from Allied Pickfords, Mad-Croc beverages, Chilean Apples from SVA Fruits,volunteers from Gap, Shanghai Town, Country Club and Deckers and specialists from ELG and NYU Shanghai.

On April 9th, Run in Blue took place. The event had a little over 100 participants last year. It was a great event. This year, with the great connection to an important cause, autism awareness, and by working with Rotaract to expand their network of participating organizations, it grew close to 500 participants. In fact, they had to close registration a week before the event because there was too much interest!

The event included not just a 5k run, but also a pre-run yoga lesson, a post run speech on Autism, a Bollywood dancing session and much more. It was an amazing day of fun activities all the while discussing autism and the lives of people it touches.

Throughout the two events, there was a very important connecting force: the AWare sleeves that you see in the pictures of the participants. These blue and yellow sleeves were a donation by Gap and the brain child of Xiersen General Manager Nikki Lindgren. Their purpose is twofold: people wearing them can show commitment to raising awareness of autism, while the money from purchasing the sleeves goes to Xiersen, where it will be used to train parents and caregivers of children with ASD in China on the newest methods available.

Raising Awareness: AGame 2016 & AWare

To say Xiersen Children Service Center was busy this past year is an understatement. Founded at the end of 2014, Xiersen focuses on revolutionizing the way special education services are provided in China by utilizing a variety of different resources in the community. We have been mobilizing community partners, recruiting volunteers, and initiating new projects since we unveiled our famous AWare sleeves in January 2016.

The idea behind the AWare project came from Nikki Lindgren, Xiersen’s General Manager. In China, children with autism are also called ‘children of the stars’ because depending on the severity, they can at times seem to live in a different world. AWare’s yellow and navy blue colored-sleeves represent the many stars (and children) in the night sky.

Worn at schools, community events, and by volunteers, their purpose is to connect people and create social awareness. Proceeds from the sleeves, sponsored by Redmond Yeung, Vice Chair of Gap Greater China, support Xiersen’s core initiative: teacher and parent education.

For our latest partnership activity, Xiersen assisted Gap and the Pudong Special Education School to create a memorable day for families with children with special needs. “Gap did a wonderful job hosting over 100 children from the Pudong Special Education School”, says Chairman of Xiersen, Andrew Hill.

During the day, children played games such as tug-of-war, led by enthusiastic Gap employees excited to host their new friends. Gap cut one of their large banners into small sections, passing pieces out to each child to paint. At the end of the day, they were pieced back together to create a unique banner from the imaginations of the children.

“This event was very powerful because it gave the children and the Gap staff the chance to share time and conversation while they did fun activities,” says Nikki Lindgren. “I am sure everyone left with a desire to spend more time together and continue the mission of including everyone from the community in our lives.”

We are planning our next big AWare event for this coming spring. Stay tuned for more about how we are helping others and raising awareness.

Click here for more information about the Xiersen and ELG partnership.

ELG Adopts Xiersen to Impact Local Children with Special Needs

In celebration of its 10th Anniversary, The Essential Learning Group has adopted Xiersen Children’s Center, an officially-registered Chinese non-profit organization, as its sister NGO. Xiersen impacts children with Autism Spectrum Disorder by providing training to parents, caretakers, and special education professionals. ELG supports Xiersen as its sister NGO through financial, in-kind, and programmatic support.

Xiersen was officially registered through a consortium of local professionals, business people, philanthropists, and ELG founders Andrew Hill, Dr. Shari Rosen, and YaPing Zhao.

During April, Autism Awareness Month, Xiersen and ELG are participating in two events designed to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder in China.

Autism Awareness Day – April 2nd

Organized by Xiersen and hosted by the Shanghai Pudong Special Education School, the day featured a host of activities to raise awareness of autism. Activities included talks, dance, arts, sports, and more. Experts were available on-site to answer questions about Autism Spectrum Disorder and related therapies. ELG staff participated as the international experts, with specialists leading educational sessions on different therapies that help children with special needs.

Run in Blue – April 9th – with Platinum Sponsor ELG

On April 9, Run in Blue, a 5KM run, will be held to celebrate Autism Awareness Month and raise funds for Xiersen Children’s Services. The event is being sponsored by Rotaract, the youth wing of the Shanghai Rotary Club. ELG will be sending a team to run in the race and is the Platinum sponsor of the event.

It has been our long-time dream to find a local, officially-registered NGO to work with in order to improve the condition of special education in China for local children and families. We are delighted to adopt Xiersen, and are looking forward to bringing our unique expertise to local educators and parents.

– Monte Rosen, ELG’s Co-Founder and Managing Director

Developing Community: Andrew Hill about His Work for Rotary

Andrew Hill, one of our founders, is a busy man. NGO Chairman and ELG Director, he already does a lot of work to help others. Not satisfied with those two major commitments, starting July 1, 2016, he has also been President of the Rotary Club of Shanghai, a prestigious position where he can do even more good. “I decided to run for presidency because there were some aspects of the club that I really wanted to see develop,” Andrew says, “Last year’s President Dean was very focused on bringing back the spirit of friendship to the club and I wanted to take this momentum and bring the club back to the fundamentals.”

WHAT IS ROTARY?

Rotary was formed in 1905. Today, it has over 34,000 clubs in over 200 countries. The Rotary Club of Shanghai was started in 1919. It’s a club that is linked with your career, attracting a wide range of professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers.

Rotary’s saying is “Service Above Self”. The organization identifies causes, internationally and locally, to target using funds and action. Most famously, polio is being eradicated globally, in part, due to Rotary’s efforts to combat the disease with vaccines.

One example of a Rotary of Shanghai project is “Careers in Care”. Told by the government that caring for Shanghai’s aging population was their biggest concern, the Rotary Club of Shanghai went into action. Inspired by one caregiver who complained of poor treatment by families, they started Careers in Care to train people to care for the elderly. After completing the program, the woman’s life was completely transformed. She finally knew how to properly, professionally, and gently take care of an elderly person who needs support. The families of her clients became welcoming and loving towards her as a result. In three years, 4,600 people were trained and the government made the training mandatory for elder care providers in Shanghai. Andrew’s enthusiasm for the project is evident when he says, “The important point to grasp is that this was a dramatic change in society for a large number of people over a long and sustainable period of time. It was amazing to see the confidence in the workers and the gratitude in the people receiving care.”

ANDREW’S PLANS FOR THE ROTARY CLUB OF SHANGHAI

Andrew’s passion for helping children with special needs, is also evident by his key roles at Xiersen and ELG. His big goal is to start a Careers in Care-like program, but for special educators who can care for and teach children with autism. In Shanghai alone, there are an estimated 20,000 children with autism, many who lack options for teachers who can give them the personalized attention they need to thrive. There simply aren’t enough professionals out there to meet the demand, and Andrew wants to change that.

“Rotary is the perfect organization to help with large initiatives for sustainable social development. Every club I connect with is very excited about this project and I am sure it will be very impactful for China,” he concludes.