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'Run for the One' Saturday will benefit flood-damaged Alpine Autism Center

April 19, 2016 Updated: April 19, 2016 at 9:28 pm
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Debris from the Waldo Canyon Fire is strewn in front of the Alpine Autism Center. The center was flooded and all the children at the center were safely evacuated on Monday, August 10, 2015. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

Neither fire nor flood could stop the Alpine Autism Center from helping autistic children and their families, but the two natural disasters have hampered fundraising efforts.

Now, the private nonprofit center is hoping its ninth annual 5K "Run for the One" benefit Saturday at America the Beautiful Park will help offset some of the losses.

"This fundraiser is especially important this year, as we have missed fundraising opportunities and experienced additional costs involved with our renting facilities and renovation," said teacher Kaitlin Varriano.

Registration begins at 8:30 a.m., and the walk/run starts at 10 a.m., in the park, 126 Cimino Drive, west of downtown.

Alpine Autism Center opened in October 2005, as the city's first nonprofit day treatment facility for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

After flames of the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012 came right up to doors of the building in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood, a flash flood hit in August 2015.

Staff and students were in the building at the time.

"When we called 911, firefighters were unable to rescue us from the building, due to 4 feet of rushing water," Varriano said.

Employees and children huddled in one room that was filled with muddy, rising water, she said. An attempt to barricade the classroom with sandbags failed, and water continued to seep in.

"Staff members were holding clients in their arms, placing them on top of tables," Varriano said.

Miraculously, no one was hurt.

But the center was severely damaged.

"We lost almost everything," Varriano said.

The center only missed one day of servicing clients. Staff delivered care in homes, then used a synagogue as an office before moving to a church for the remainder of the displacement.

It took more than five months to get the center up and running again. It reopened Jan. 11.

That was only possible, Varriano said, "because our staff, parents and volunteers worked around-the-clock to clean, set up and organize our building," she said.

But the organization missed one of its biggest annual fundraisers last year, a wine and casino night.

The goal of Saturday's 5K event is to raise $45,000, Varriano said. Nearly $22,000 has been pledged as of Tuesday. Proceeds will help fund treatment, resources, support and advocacy for local families.

April is recognized nationally as Autism Awareness Month. Autism affects 1 in every 68 children in the United States, according to the Alpine Autism Center, and impacts more than 1,000 families locally.

To register, donate or volunteer, call Judi or Todd, 203-6903, or go to http://www.firstgiving.com/9435/aac9thannual5kwalkrun2016.

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