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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Local school children walk to raise autism awareness

The Hawk News
Phillip DeLuca, Samuel Gompers School’s principal, posing with the Hawk. PHOTO: MADELINE WILLIAMS ’26/ THE HAWK

The Kinney Center hosted over 200 Samuel Gompers Elementary School students for an Autism Awareness Walk on April 14. 

Students, faculty and community members from Gompers Elementary walked from their school, up Cardinal Avenue and across City Avenue to gather at the Kinney Center. Volunteers and administrators from the Kinney Center, as well as St. Joe’s mascot, the Hawk, greeted the walkers. Their path was marked with signs about autism acceptance that had been created by Kinney Center students. 

The idea to walk to the Kinney Center came from Rennie Parker, community school coordinator for Gompers Elementary, who reached out to Aimee Terosky, Ph.D., professor of educational leadership and the university’s liaison to Gompers Elementary. Theresa McFalls, director of college support at the Kinney Center, also helped to organize the walk. 

“We have a small number of children who are on the autism spectrum, and we want to give support for those [students],” Parker said. 

While this is not the first year Gompers Elementary has hosted an autism awareness walk, this is the first year they have walked to the Kinney Center for the event. Previously, students walked around the Gompers Elementary building. 

Alli Gatta, associate director of college support at the Kinney Center, said hosting the event on campus adds an important element for the school-aged children.

“It’s exciting for elementary school students to come to a college campus and to see college students, but also really for the students with autism to see that we have such a great population of students here at St. Joe’s who are students on the autism spectrum,” Gatta said.

The Kinney Center provided goody bags filled with bubbles, Kinney Center keychains and handouts on how to be a good friend to someone with autism that all students could take with them. There were also bags for staff with information on the Kinney Center’s services and contact information.

Katie Lankin ’25, an ASPIRE mentor who attended the walk and welcomed the children, said it’s important to host events like this for the community. 

“Not many people really understand autism and know about it,” Lankin said. “Just having walks like this and events on campus [about] autism really spreads awareness.”

Terosky said the walk is just one of dozens of programs that the St. Joe’s runs with Gompers Elementary.

The Hawk and a Gompers student engaging in a high-five on the walk.

“We’re always trying to figure out what can Kinney do to support Gompers’ current needs and how can we even expand it more,” Terosky said. “We would like to keep building more to make it more than just these one-off kinds of things. We’d love for there to be a more systematic program in place, and so we’re always looking for programs and funding that we can do to make that a reality.”

Gompers student holding a sign that supports spreading awareness of autism. PHOTOS: MADELINE WILLIAMS ’26/ THE HAWK
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