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Chester event will "light it blue" for autism awareness

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By Brian Garner

Karen Hill has been working with special needs kids, including her own grandson Jae, for most of her life. She said she was able to organize this year’s autism/special needs awareness event with some help.

“The Good Lord and me,” Hill said.

“I’ve always had a knack for special needs kids. When I was in high school, I was in the VICA Club and we had projects we had to work on. We took volleyballs to some special needs kids. We’ve had several special needs kids in my family. That’s just something God’s had a calling on my life for. Ask anyone that knows me and they’ll tell you I love to help people,” she said.

Hill is the organizer of the second “Light Up Chester” event, which takes place in downtown Chester on Saturday from 7-9 p.m.

“Last year, God laid it on me to do this event and I’ve done it again this year,” she said.

Hill said the event is mainly about autism awareness, but the scope of the event has been expanded to include awareness about the many different kinds of special needs, and what opportunities there are for kids with special needs.

“We have been working this past year on lots of opportunities for these children. We have joined forces with WorkAbility, (the organization in Chester dedicated to providing opportunities for both young people and adults with special needs in the areas of employment, transportation, housing, education and recreation) which has given them the opportunity to work at the old bowling alley, we have Olympic swimming through the Chester County YMCA, we have Kenaki Karate, which offers special needs classes and we have the Fort Lawn Community Center, which holds an event called Super Saturday where they have art shows and other activities. Also, Brian Bell’s Impressions Dance Troupe has dance lessons for special needs kids,” Hill said.

“We hope we’ll have a lot more opportunities in the coming year,” Hill said.

This year’s “Light Up Blue” event in downtown Chester will begin at the top of the hill and stretch all the way down Gadsden Street. There will be bouncy houses, a DJ, face painting and kids will be able to get their hair tinted blue, Hill said.

Local businesses and churches will be involved in the awareness event and there will be some mascots, such as the Founders Federal Credit Union mascot.

Guest speakers will include WorkAbility chair (and Chester City councilmember) Susan Kovas, Kenaki Karate Sensei Chopper White, Fort Lawn Community Center director Libby Sweatt-Lambert, Brian Bell and Chester County YMCA branch director Chet Tucker are scheduled to speak.

Chester High’s Club Unify is also expected to participate. They have painted puzzle pieces (a puzzle piece is becoming the recognized symbol representing the autism spectrum) and those creations will be judged, Hill said.

Kids attending the awareness event will also be able to fill bottles with colorful sand for a unique keepsake.

“Both the Chester County Sheriff’s Office and the City of Chester will display all colors, not just blue, because autistic kids love different colors,” Hill said. She also expects firefighters and emergency workers from many different agencies will participate. There will be Chester-themed t-shirts in support of autism awareness for sale at the event. Hill is also asking businesses to shine blue lights on April 1 and for people to wear blue to work, school and in the public to show their support of autism awareness.

“I hope every year I’m alive, I’ll get to do this, and it will become bigger and better each year,” Hill said.

For more information on the “Light It Up Blue” event, contact Karen Hill at 803-209-4482.