Westborough teen is a powerful advocate for autism research
By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – Although she did not win the top prize in the national competition of the Prudential Spirit of Community awards this past spring, Rebecca Ackerman is not disappointed. Quite to the contrary, she was thrilled at the opportunity, she said, to meet so many other young people who, like her, are inspired to make a positive change in the world.
In March, she was named as one of the two Massachusetts honorees for the Prudential awards. Rebecca, who will be entering her senior year at Westborough High School this fall, was honored for her work as an advocate for autism awareness and research. She has a very personal reason that she is so passionate about this cause – her twin brother, David, is autistic.
As one of the state winners, Rebecca was invited to participate in Prudential's national competition which was held in Washington D.C. in early May. Rebecca and her mother, Susan, flew to the nation's capital where they were feted for several days. ?There they met teens and their families from not only the U.S, but from many other countries as well.
As part of the trip, the teens toured several national monuments and museums. At a special dinner held in their honor, they met several celebrities, including football star Eli Manning and Harry Shum Jr., ?a star of the hit television show, Glee.
“That was so cool!” Rebecca said of meeting Shum. “We didn's even know he was going to be there, so it was a real surprise. He was so nice and telling us how awesome we all were.”
Rebecca and the other Mass. winner, Grace Kirrane of Fitchburg, also met the two U.S. Mass. state senators, John Kerry, D, and Scott Brown, R.
“Sen. Kerry knew exactly who we were and why we were there,” Rebecca recalled. “He even asked me how Dave was doing!”
Although Brown was not quite as up to date on the girls” backgrounds, he was interested to learn about them and was gracious, she added.
But it was the opportunity to meet the other honored teens that was the highlight of her trip, she said.
“It was cool to hang out with all these great kids,” she noted. “It was very comfortable, no one was bragging. It was more that we were all sharing our stories and just being amazed at what some kids have done.”
Although she did not win a top prize, Rebecca's accomplishments are quite impressive. Over the past six years, her fundraising team, “Doing it for Dave,” has raised over $80,000 for autism research. She has spoken to school groups about autism and this summer is volunteering with the Dedham-based organization, Autism Speaks, where she is leading the youth committee.
She is also hoping to compile a book that will highlight different points of views of those who are either autistic or have a family member who is.
As she prepares to enter her senior year, she is also thinking about life after graduation.
“I would like to major in non-profit business, I think,” she said, “and maybe do some missionary work in Africa.”
But ultimately, she added, she hopes to work where her heart has been for so long – as an advocate for those with autism.
Rebecca is currently fundraising for the 2012 Greater Boston “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” event which will be held in Boston, Sunday, Sept. 30.
To donate to Rebecca's fundraising team and to learn more about her mission, go to http://www.walknowforautismspeaks.org and type her name into the “search for walker” blocks. She has also set up a Facebook page titled, “Doing it for Dave.”
(Photos/courtesy Rebecca Ackerman)
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