18 Candles

I’ll never forget my 15th birthday. My friends, classmates, teachers, and peers all gathered side by side in our formal winter attire, glancing up, anxiously anticipating the reveal of the check. “$118,000!” The entire building lit up with exuberance. The heartwarming atmosphere between the community and the recipients of the charity, Learning Together, gave me a sense of fulfillment. Finding my purpose amongst this group of individuals was one of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received.

Flash forward three years, and our goal has doubled from $100,000 my freshman year to $200,000 for The Autism Society of North Carolina’s IGNITE program. IGNITE is unique in its ability to build a strong sense of community and support for this crucial population. It is the only program in Raleigh that specifically works with young adults with high-functioning autism to help them achieve greater confidence and independence.

This year, I was given the opportunity to create an art installation about autism that will be featured at the Visual Arts Exchange as part of Art With Purpose. When I visited the Visual Arts Exchange, they showed us a video about sensory overload difficulties people with autism face, and I began brainstorming ideas for my project. Creating an art piece about a developmental disability was one of greatest challenges I have encountered artistically and in Charity Ball. I needed to understand the complexity of the condition and be able to convey this perspective to others through art.

One Monday night, I visited IGNITE with four members of student council and played Pictionary with Sarah and Hunter. As we drew shapes, laughed, and guessed about each others’ sketches, I discovered the answers that I had been seeking for my project. There is no linear explanation, mold, or characteristic that applies to each individual with autism, and knowing this inspired me to make openness and perception a theme in my art piece. I learned about Sarah’s incredible attention to detail and Hunter’s in-depth knowledge of sports. Hearing their stories through IGNITE brought me that familiar sense of wholeness that continues to remind me why I am part of Enloe Charity Ball.

When I blow out the candles on my 18th birthday and enter the mysterious doors of adulthood, I’ll be thinking about the lessons I learned from Enloe Charity Ball of compassion, unity, and humanity. Watching Charity Ball expand and inspire a growing number of students to feel capable of creating change for future generations has been one of the most memorable and impactful experiences of my life.

Anabel Russo

Executive Publicity Officer



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