Local Students with Autism Ask for Support: $100k by Year’s End

FOCUS Center for Autism

The students of the nonprofit Fresh Start School in Canton, a program exclusively dedicated to the clinical as well as academic needs of adolescents on the autism spectrum and high anxiety, feel that they have finally found a place where they feel accepted, safe and supported. But in order to continue serving children from across the state, the school is launching its first year-end “Stand by Me” fundraising campaign.

The drive launches in October and runs through December 31 with a goal of $100,000.

As with many schools, local and state financial support are key to operational success and shortfalls from state education budgets have had a serious impact. Though curriculum expansion for the Fresh Start School will continue for the next five years, the pace of growth and population-reach access – including additional hiring and support of current credentialed staff – is dependent upon meeting their goal.

The theme of the “Stand by Me” campaign reflects Ben E. King’s soulful lyrics to his 1962 hit that accurately speak to the beauty of steadfast, loyal friendship, as well as Rob Reiner’s 1986 classic film of the same name. The Fresh Start Students sang a heartwarming rendition of this song at their 2018 Graduation Ceremony as it truly reflects their gratitude and appreciation for all who have been there for them on their journey.

“The movie “Stand by Me” is an accurate depiction of adolescence, a time brimming with possibilities and anxieties; a time when seeds of lasting friendship are sown,” said Donna Swanson, Executive Director of the FOCUS Center for Autism, the parent organization of the Fresh Start School. “The kids in the program are blossoming with the tools and personal connections that they have not been able to find anywhere else.”

All funds raised in the three-month campaign will go towards program and staff development. “Our goal is to support families and students who may feel marginalized in traditional school settings. As our unique program grows more popular, the need to expand is clear. We’re happy about that, but we don’t want to place the burden of expansion on our students’ families. That’s why we are turning to the community, and hopefully people can see that our commitment to them – as well as our students – runs deep,” said Swanson.

“Stand by Me” is one of many firsts for the school. Outreach efforts to introduce the public to the many facets of autism include engaging one-on-one student/parent/staff interviews on multiple social media platforms, “friend”raising events, and their very own “Autism Spectrum Unplugged Panel” that features students sharing insight on what it’s like to live with the disorder in their own words. The directors of the school are also offering the public more opportunities to understand the critical and unique work being done.

Once the Fresh Start students graduate, return to their school system or go on to higher education or the workforce, the impact of the Fresh Start School’s influence within the greater community will be seen.

“We have accomplished so much in these first years of operation, and we invite our neighbors – community friends and businesses – to take an active and invested role in the futures of our incredible students and staff. We literally stand by our community and respectfully ask them to stand by us,” said Swanson.

Supporters interested in learning more about the Fresh Start School’s “Stand by Me” campaign are welcome to visit the FOCUS Center for Autism website –


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