Autism Speaks becomes a nationally recognized chapter at RMU


Arli Swaney

Autism Speaks at Robert Morris University was recently given national recognition by the organization’s headquarters to represent their cause.

President and founder of the RMU chapter, Danielle Wicklund, started the chapter early in the fall 2016 semester.

Wicklund said, “I was motivated to do something bigger for the autistic and special needs community. I wanted to establish and create an RMU chapter for Autism Speaks. And the rest is history.”

After not succeeding in a contest at her high school, Wicklund wanted to make a difference, so she started the RMU chapter of Autism Speaks.

“I believe we all have a purpose in life and that we have a responsibility to help others in our own way,” said Wickland. “I was not chosen to deliver a speech for a contest at my high school my senior year. In a way, that motivated me to start this chapter.”

The chapter started up last semester in September, and since its founding, it has participated in many projects. By winning the Pens4Purpose contest, the chapter got national exposure, allowing them to be recognized as an official chapter by the Autism Speaks organization.

“Some branches can take multiple semesters to be recognized, and we are fortunate enough to be recognized after only one semester on campus,” said member Allison Harnsberger.

Many colleges and universities have an Autism Speaks organization. However, the Autism Speaks national organization only chooses to recognize special chapters who exhibit excellence.

Harnsberger said that “the national organization of Autism Speaks just decided that our efforts were considerable enough that we earned the status of an official branch of Autism Speaks U.”

The purpose of Autism Speaks is to raise awareness, get donations and support research for those who are impacted by autism. Founded in 2005, the organization has expanded rapidly, with chapters being founded at colleges and universities all across the country. RMU is one of the few to be recognized nationally.

According to their website, official chapters “are committed to raising awareness and funds for Autism Speaks, while serving as voices of hope, inspiration, and support for the autism community.”

Harnsberger defined RMU’s personal goals for the cause as being to fundraise for the main organization of Autism Speaks. The organization also volunteers to be of service to those who have mental capabilities.

Various students on campus wanted to join Autism Speaks due to personal relations with those who have been impacted by autism. Isabella Riordan, a member of RMU’s chapter of Autism Speaks, said she joined because autism has affected a significant amount of people in her life. She wanted to be a part of something that could help kids and those affected by autism.

The RMU chapter has participated in multiple fundraising events so far. The group competed and won the Pens4Purpose contest, in which they won $10,000 for the organization.

Autism Speaks at RMU has participated in campus-wide events, such as bake sales and a toy drive, with other services including volunteering at Pediatric Specialty Care. Autism Speaks will be volunteering at McGuire Memorial later this month.