College of Public Health faculty and staff walk 5k for autism research

Faculty from College of Public Health raised $4,000 for autism research.

Members of Temple's team walk down 11th Street near Pattison Avenue during the Eagles Autism Challenge walk on August 21. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As the grandmother of multiple children on the autism spectrum, Yvette Sanchez-Barreto participated in the Philadelphia Eagles’ Autism Challenge to help provide opportunities for people with autism.

“I know how important it is to walk for autism and provide resources for children that don’t have the resources that they need,” said Sanchez-Barreto, assistant director of administration for the School of Social Work. “I’m really passionate about that and that’s why I chose to do it today.”

Sanchez-Barreto was part of a team of Temple University faculty and staff who took part in the Eagles Autism Challenge, a cycling, running and walking event held annually to raise awareness and funds for autism research and care programs. The event was hosted by Lincoln Financial Group on Saturday, Aug. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field from 6:30 a.m. through 11:30 a.m.

Temple’s team, which consisted of three in-person and four virtual participants, took part in the 5k walk at 8:30 a.m.

Virtual participants had to raise a minimum of $325 and had the option to walk, run or bike in their own neighborhoods and share images or videos on social media, said Luisa Klemm, event coordinator for the College of Public Health. 

Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end, signs a towel on the back of a participant at the Eagles Autism Challenge event at Lincoln Financial Field on August 21. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As in-person participants gathered at the start line, they were greeted by Eagles club executives, the team’s mascot SWOOP and players like Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and Darius Slay. 

Klemm formed Temple’s team for the event after hearing that Wei Song, a second-year postdoctoral fellow at the College of Public Health, was awarded a grant from the Eagles Autism Challenge to continue her research on community participation among adults with autism. 

Song would not have been able to conduct her research about autism without her fellowship, she said. Throughout her fellowship, she has conducted quantitative research through data sets and collected information from around 800 Pennsylvania adults on the autism spectrum to analyze how people’s personality and environmental factors relate to community participation levels, she said.

Prior to the event, Temple’s team raised around $4,000 in virtual donations from family, friends and acquaintances. Fundraising went smoothly because people were eager to donate, Klemm said. 

“We have so many individuals that are really passionate about the research that’s happening, and have their stories to share,” Klemm added. 

Abbigail Ametrano, member of Temple’s team, enters Lincoln Financial Field as she finishes the 5K walk at the Eagles Autism Challenge event on August 21. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Besides funding research, the goal of the event is to bring people together, said Ryan Hammond, executive director of the Eagles Autism Foundation.  

“This isn’t a transaction,” Hammond said. “You don’t pay $50, get a shirt and participate. You register, you join our community, you become a leader, you leverage your network and you fundraise.” 

Klemm and Abbey Ametrano, assistant director of faculty recruitment at the College of Public Health, believe the event was a great opportunity for the community to gather and support an important cause.

“It feels really good for all of us to be out here, doing it together and feel like we’re part of a team,” Ametrano said. “And it’s just great to feel that synergy and sense of community to do something for the good.” 

The event concluded inside Lincoln Financial Field with field activities, food and opportunities to meet and get autographs from Philadelphia Eagles players. They also held an on-field awards ceremony, during which participants earned medals for their efforts. 

“I think the most amazing part is the celebration,” Hammond said. “You sign up, you do all of this work to come to this celebration, and realize that we’re all on the same team when it comes to autism, and we’re all sharing a vision to really come together to improve lives.”

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