For Deborah Morton, who has been with FEAT of Louisville â€“ the cityâ€™s renowned autism support group â€“ since 2007, what started out as a simple chance to volunteer and help with marketing morphed into an appointment as executive director in January of this year.
One way Morton wants to make progress at FEAT is by providing ample opportunities for young adults and teenagers who have autism, who may not have as much support in their later life as children do. So whether itâ€™s job training or educating employers, Families for Effective Autism Treatment wants to be a part of that process.
â€œI think in our community weâ€™re running short on programs for teenagers and young adults,â€ explains Morton. â€œThere are a lot of folks in our city that have autism, so what is going to happen to them tomorrow, when they are 25 years old? And even though they have gone through some service, do they have the ability to get a job? What employer is going to be able to take them on as an employee?â€
So far, stepping up to the position of executive director has been nothing but a positive experience for Morton â€“ a chance to make even more of a difference with an organization she treasures dearly, as do the people it helps.
â€œItâ€™s been great,â€ she adds. â€œMy family is very supportive, as Iâ€™ve always been known as being part of FEAT. But itâ€™s just been so satisfying working for a nonprofit. I had never considered working for a nonprofit when I finished my bachelorâ€™s or masterâ€™s degree. But Iâ€™m here because of the people that I met and the journey they were on and the struggles that they had and seeing their lives. And because of the role that I had in being able to help them, I could not imagine doing anything else.â€
For now, the attention is on the FEAT 5K race on May 30 â€“ and on trying to beat last yearâ€™s number of participants and amount of money raised.
â€œLast year, we ended up with 823 runners and around 200 spectators,â€ explains Morton. â€œThere were plenty of folks that came out just to cheer other people on. But this year, weâ€™re hoping to be at 1,000 participants.â€
â€œIâ€™m here because of the people that I met and the journey they were on and the struggles that they had and seeing their lives. And because of the role that I had, in being able to help them, I could not imagine doing anything else.â€â€œSome of these families, they just simply worry about what might happen to their children when they are no longer here. Who is going to take care of them? So I think a goal of FEAT is to make progress here.â€
The number would be apt given itâ€™s the raceâ€™s 10th anniversary. A record would be the cherry on the cake for an event thatâ€™s firmly becoming a staple â€“ not just for racers, but as a day out for the whole family. Run in the Parklands, thereâ€™s a big kid zone with bounce castles and face painting. And for the runners, Morton says theyâ€™ve got a new thing up their sleeve.
â€œThis year, weâ€™re actually stepping it up, and weâ€™re doing a chipped race,â€ says Morton. â€œNow, Iâ€™m not a runner, but from what I understand, thatâ€™s a really big deal when it comes to recording your time. You wear a tiny chip on your shoe and that will record you as soon as you get across the finish line.â€
Things like that mean thereâ€™s a good chance that the race may break its records â€“ especially the amount of money it raises.
â€œLast year, we raised close to $55,000, and this year â€“ we really hope that we get more this year.â€
Because in the end, the money raised is able to do the most important of things: notify people of what FEAT is and of the good work they are capable of doing for autism support in the Louisville area. Take the example of the swimming program:
â€œWeâ€™ve seen successâ€ â€“ Morton says â€“ â€œwith our swimming program: kids that are drawn to water because they think itâ€™s really neat, but cognitively, they donâ€™t understand that it can kill them. So we created a swim program, and now we have kids that are learning how to swim and understand water.â€
For information on the FEAT 5K and volunteering opportunities, visit www.featoflouisville.org