By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Southborough – The New England Center for Children (NECC) in Southborough is preparing for its 10th annual 5K Walk/Run for Autism to be held Saturday, May 7, at 10 a.m., starting and finishing at the Margaret A. Neary Elementary School. To celebrate the fundraiser’s decade anniversary, NECC recently hosted an evening kickoff event at the P. Brent Trottier Middle School. There, Simone Clinton of Framingham shared success stories of her son Liam, an NECC student for 10 years.
The family is looking forward to participating in the 5K as “Liam’s League” for their 10th year.
“The 5K has become an annual tradition for us,” Clinton said. “I love that it’s always scheduled the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I feel like it’s my real Mother’s Day because it’s when I get to see all the progress that Liam makes every year.”
Shortly after taking basic swim lessons as a preschooler with the Autism Alliance of MetroWest in Natick, Liam began kindergarten at NECC. Around that time, NECC launched a capital campaign to raise funds to construct its Michael S. Dukakis Aquatic Center.
“They had the idea to hold a 5K for the Annual Fund to raise money needed to build the aquatic center, so that’s when we got on board,” Clinton explained. “I thought that only my family would participate, but then his swim teacher and 18 people from her running club also ran for Liam’s League.”
Now 14, Liam continues practicing his swimming skills at the aquatic center. His mother believes that her son’s weekly swim class is an effective incentive for him.
“My son behaves well and works very hard on his programs all week to meet the requirements so that he can go to swim class on Friday,” she relayed. “The kids really enjoy that time in the pool.”
She also thinks that his interest in swimming motivated him to acquire other athletic skills. Since age 8, Liam has participated in the Special Olympics. He now plays basketball, soccer, softball throw, and track and field.
Clinton remembers the early years of the 5K when it was held at the Pilgrim Congregational Church with about 750 participants. In recent years, the fundraiser moved its location to accommodate more than 1,300 runners and walkers, many of whom participate repeatedly. NECC supporters also tend to donate annually, Clinton noted.
“I keep in touch with the people that have donated in the past, letting them know of the progress that Liam has been making because of their contribution to NECC,” she said. “Some people started by making a donation of $10. Now at 10 years, they’re contributing $100. I don’t think they got richer; they got more understanding of the need for supporting programs like the ones at NECC.”
The NECC facility is in the midst of an expansion and renovation. An addition to be named the Autism Institute will provide space for training and research. Renovations to the existing building will become the Student Center with art and music rooms, a library, a computer lab and more. Clinton foresees Liam feeling comfortable in the Student Center.
“Other than doing sports, my son is in the NECC choir,” she noted. “I was told when Liam left preschool that he couldn’t speak, he was nonverbal. Now, he’s singing in the choir. It’s pretty amazing.”
April is National Autism Awareness Month, but Clinton shares her family’s experience year-round to increase awareness.
“Children with autism have many abilities and are capable of learning,” she said. “My son participates in sports, choir and social events at NECC. I promote the school because they really consider the whole child and I appreciate the support they give to families.”
For more information about NECC and the 5K, visit necc.org.