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Martin C. Barry

An online fundraiser held Oct. 27-28 for the benefit of the Giant Steps School of Montreal raised $516,000 for the school’s programs for students aged 4 to 21 years with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

According to Giants Steps board president Nick Katalifos, it is the single-largest amount ever raised at a Giant Steps fundraiser. He said the sum might even grow larger as some last-minute pledges and donations were expected.

Awareness growing

Katalifos attributed the success of the fundraiser to various factors, including rising awareness of the cause. “The issue of autism obviously has really become a major one for our society,” he told the Laval News.

“We’ve all heard about the stats with the numbers of kids today who are getting diagnosed. And Giant Steps is, to my knowledge, the only school in Quebec that deals exclusively with autistic students.

Seen in this photo (left to right) from November 2018 are Giant Steps board members at that time: Jean de Mailly Nesle (vice-president), Tracy Pennimpede (Foundation director), Nick Katalifos (administrator), Andrée Dallaire (administrator), André Pagé (Treasurer) and Thomas Henderson (school director).

“So, I think more and more people in the community have become aware that Giant Steps is also working hard on projects and programs beyond the student body and is geared towards working the autistic community as a whole.

An exceptional response

Katalifos said Giant Steps had been doing this type of fundraiser for the past four to five years, but this year was by far the best. He agreed the response was exceptional, considering the difficult circumstances most people have been struggling with since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re all living through very difficult and challenging times with the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “So, we’re particularly grateful to the community for supporting us in such a big way.”

Polaris Enterprise Series

Giant Steps recently launched the Polaris Enterprise Leadership Series with an interview with José Velasco, Head of SAP’s Autism at Work Program. Throughout the month of November, the series will feature interviews with international and local organizations, working to accelerate employment of autistic adults.

According to Katalifos, the school has developed a relationship with the Loblaw Companies to provide training to students. “The goal is for them to be offered full-time jobs with full benefits,” he said. “And we hope the company will expand the project well beyond Quebec eventually. That’s a hope on our part. That’s the plan at least.”

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