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Bella’s Last Blast: How a Brighton Teen is making a stand for AutismUp

Integration and inclusion are similar words, but do we really understand the meanings behind them?

“Picture a bowl of cherries floating in a kitchen sink. They’re there, but they aren’t really in the water. Thats integration. Now when you spread the cherries into the water…that’s inclusion.  They occupy the same space.” Explains Marisa Geitner, president and CEO of Heritage Christian Services. Heritage Christian is a non-profit organization that provides care for those with all types of intellectual and developmental disabilities, children and elders.  They’re striving to help people understand the subtle but critical difference between those two words and ensure all are included.

Along with Heritage and many others, AutismUp is another organization out to erase barriers of disability and build relationships between children and families with autism. Alex Ponticello, 15, seen below with his sister Bella, loves AutismUp for many reasons.

AutismUp is a non-profit organization based in Webster, New York that supports kids with autism and their families. With their Multi-Sensory Learning Lab, they enable kids and families to come together and play, exercise, and build relationships.

“He loves basketball.” smiles Bella, as her mom nods in agreement “He’s out in the driveway literally every day. He never stops. Sports are his favorite.”

When you ask Alex what his favorite part of AutismUp is, it’s all the things he gets to do with his friends. The trampolines, the rock walls, the treadmills, and all of the other activities AutismUp offers.

One of the main goals and biggest assets of the organization is broadening networking between families. “When he’s in a room with a bunch of people, his horizon isn’t limited. He’s a totally different person when he’s surrounded by friends, the potential for him is endless.” Says Bella, a proud representative and fundraising advocate for the organization that her brother is so active with. “Since he was little we’ve always wanted him to be a part of something and be included, so my mom and I, my whole family really has worked really hard to kind of boost AutismUp so that other kids like Alex can realize the potential of it too.”

Hoping that this can be a stepping stone towards widespread inclusion, organizations like AutismUp continue to build relationships and network between families in such a way that makes it easier to make connections. From this accepting and safe environment, the hope is that things like this can lead to overall inclusiveness for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Integrating is a good first step, but the process cannot stop there. Moving towards a tomorrow where we all share common places must remain the end goal, and it’s attainable with the welcoming of differences and the help of the community.

Before she heads to college in Tampa next week, Bella Ponticello put together her second annual fundraiser for AutismUp. Last year she raised upwards of $3000, and she’s hoping to top that this year. Check out “Bella’s Last Blast” and other ways to help out here.

FL1 Reporter Addilys Geitner is an intern from Nazareth College in Rochester. The junior has roots in Bloomfield, but is reporting on stories throughout the Western Finger Lakes. Follow Addilys on Twitter @AddilysGeitner, or email addi@fingerlakes1.com

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