Eden Autism has more support for its mission to improve the lives of children and adults with autism thanks to a $100,000 donation from the Wawa Foundation.
Wawa Director of Operations Jason Read and Wawa Area Manager Daniel Holland presented the donation to Eden Autism May 9 at the grand opening of their new Roselle location. The donation will help Eden continue to provide a lifetime of support to those with autism through their supportive employment program.
“Wawa is a champion for people with developmental disabilities,” Eden Autism President & CEO Michael K. Decker said. “Wawa and The Wawa Foundation share our commitment to improving the lives of individuals in our communities through support and advocacy. On behalf of everyone at Eden, we are truly thankful for Wawa’s outstanding contribution to our organization.”
The donation will benefit Eden Autism’s supportive employment program, which prepares adults for employment based upon their skills and abilities. The programs place major emphasis on teaching skills necessary to enable every adult participant to have some level of employment, even those participants for whom autism presents the most significant challenges.
Eden student Patrick Murphy and his mom, Tara, and sister, Aleta, were on hand to accept the check on behalf of Eden Autism at the grand opening celebration. Tara Murphy shared her family’s story, stressing how invaluable employment programs are for individuals with autism.
“Patrick is 20 years old now,” said Tara Murphy. “That means in one year he’ll be done with the school system, and after that for many families it’s a big black hole. There are not many opportunities available, so we are very lucky both to be a part of Eden and that Wawa has supported us for all these years.”
After Tara was done speaking, Patrick grabbed the mic and proudly proclaimed that he wanted to “work at Wawa.”
The bond between Wawa and Eden Autism is unlike any other. The relationship between the organizations dates back to 1981 when Wawa hired its first special needs employee through an Eden pilot program. Today, 76 percent of Eden’s adult participants are employed or volunteer.
“When I first got to know Eden 35 years ago, I remember how impressed I was with the organization,” said Scott Kent, Wawa Area Manager of Central and Northern New Jersey stores. “Eden has been a leader in the field of autism since I started in the early ‘80s, and there’s no difference today. They’ve always kept their families and the participants at the forefront of every decision they’ve made.”
The Wawa Foundation was created in 2014 to support Wawa’s charitable giving and philanthropic activities. The Foundation has since contributed over $50 million to more than 4,000 organizations.
Below is the remarkable journey between Wawa and Eden Autism.
- 1981: Wawa hires its first special needs employee, Ari Shiner, through Eden.
- 1991: Wawa Houseopens. The first program of its kind in the nation to provide early intervention services focusing exclusively on infants and toddlers with autism.
- 1994: Wawa C.A.R.E.S. van goes on the road. Used to deliver staff, materials, and equipment to schools, hospitals, and other locations where information and services could be easily accessed by families and professionals.
- 1995: Wawa Education & Retreat Center is dedicated. Located in Chaplin, CT, the center provides an annual summer camp experience for Eden students.
- 1996: 144 Wawa stores embarked on a five-year $1,000,000 campaign to fund another Wawa C.A.R.E.S. van, a Wawa Shores retreat house in Cape May, and a second Wawa House (Wawa South).
- 2011: Wawa supported Eden operations until 2011 through an annual golf outing.
- 2012: Eden was a beneficiary of Wawa’s Coin Canister Campaign.
- 2013: Wawa enables Eden to offer pro bono ABA services to school districts to train staff and/or purchase curriculum and additional training webinars via EdWeb.
- 2014: Wawa celebrates 35 years of support of Eden in conjunction with the Wawa grand opening at the new Princeton Train Station.
- 2016: Wawa honors Ariel Shiner and Adam Bloomberg for their service anniversaries at the opening of its new Hamilton, NJ store. Both Ari and Adam have are part of the Eden programs and have worked with Wawa for 35 years and 20 years, respectively.