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Photo via Brian Walter on Facebook
Photo via Brian Walter on Facebook
Senator Joe Addabbo meets with The James Gang inside his Middle Village office on April 2.

A team of local residents that have volunteered countless hours in support of autism awareness are hosting their fifth annual fundraiser in Glendale with the hope of raising more money than ever.

Organized by Brian Walter and a group of volunteers he assembled over the years, the 2018 “Light It Up With The Blues” benefit for the charitable organization Autism Speaks will take place on Sunday, April 22, at Yerman’s Irish Pub in Glendale from 1 to 7 p.m. The event will include live performances from three bands and raffles for cash and prizes with all the proceeds going to Autism Speaks.

The event has grown considerably over the past five years, but when Walter met with state Senator Joe Addabbo on April 2 at his Middle Village office he seized an opportunity to spread the word even further, he said.

“We spoke for about 45 minutes about the benefit, about autism in general, about how he could help us,” Walter said. “It was a fantastic opportunity and he pledged his support.”

Walter also brought the core of his volunteer team to the meeting: his parents and his son James, who is autistic. They call themselves “The James Gang,” and with the help of other close friends they have raised more than $30,000 for Autism Speaks through their benefits and other programs.

Walter met Addabbo a year ago in Albany when he was attending a union event and pulled the senator aside to talk about the benefit. Addabbo said he appreciated the eagerness of his constituent to seek out his help.

“A lot of times our legislative work comes from people who are facing a situation,” Addabbo said. “It’s good for me to hear Brian, who is on the front lines, and say, ‘How can I help?’ I’m expecting it to be a relationship that continues.”

The two agreed on the importance of awareness, and Addabbo said that he will be able to promote the benefit on his social media channels and give Walter guidance about how to do more outreach himself. Addabbo also noted that the newly signed state budget for 2018-19 includes money for a statewide training program to help first responders better interact and treat people with autism spectrum or related disorders.

The “Light It Up With The Blues” benefit features performances from the Midnite All-Stars, 3 Sheets to the Wind & Godfrey Townsend and Solshyne, as well as music by Party Sound Entertainment. The top raffle prizes include a $300 gift certificate to Great Wolf Lodge, New York Mets tickets, New York Yankees tickets and NYC Sunset Cruise tickets. There will also be close to 20 more gift certificates to local businesses raffled off.

Walter said he hopes to raise “a dollar more than last year,” when the benefit brought in $6,700 for Autism Speaks, which provides services and events to help autistic children and their families cope with the everyday challenges of the disease.

“I would love to find a cure for autism, but I understand my son is old enough that he’s going to probably live the rest of his life like this,” Walter said. “But for him to have those opportunities to do something that other children take for granted, that’s priceless, and that’s why we do what we do.”

For those who can’t make it to the benefit but would like to donate to the cause, visit “The James Gang” online here.

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