Thomas Linemayr, center, President & CEO of Lindt USA is joined by the 2011 Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism: Connie Erbert, left, Kerri Duncan, second left, and Bonnie Gillman, right.
To further support Lindt's partnership with Autism Speaks, for the third year, Lindt conducted a national search for Unsung Heroes of the autism cause. Three individuals have been selected from an exceptional group of nominees, and have been recognized and honored as extraordinary champions for those affected by autism in their families, homes and communities.
The Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism nominations were reviewed by panel of judges from Lindt and Parents magazine, and the 2011 winners all demonstrated an unwavering dedication to helping others who have been affected by autism. The three honorees were each awarded with $5,000 and a trip to New York for an awards luncheon at The New York Palace hotel in their honor on March 30 to kick off the month of April, National Autism Awareness Month.
The 2011 Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism:
- Kerri Duncan of Springfield, Mo. saw the need in her community to provide quality educational opportunities for those with autism. In 2000 she opened the Rivendale Center for Autism and Institute of Learning and now serves as the school's director. The Center serves 45 students annually, and is the only private school for children with autism in southwest Missouri specializing in behavior therapy and intensive individualized instruction. Over the last decade, Duncan has expanded the Center to provide a training space for students and professionals looking to become involved in autism-related work. She also recently partnered with Specialized Education Services Inc. (SESI), to give the Center's programs national reach to more than 40 schools in 11 states.
- Connie Erbert of Wichita, Kan. has devoted her entire professional career to improving the lives of those impacted by autism. Currently, she serves as the director of the Community of Autism Resources and Education program (CARE) at Heartspring, which she founded in 2007. Today, the program is utilized by more than 700 families in the Wichita area and offers consultation services to businesses and school districts. In the spring of 2008, Erbert started the first walk for autism awareness in the Wichita area, which has raised more than $120,000 to date. That same year, she established Camp SSTAR (Social Skills Technology Art and Recreation) to provide children with Asperger's and high functioning autism the opportunity to participate in a camp experience. Erbert has also traveled to Beijing in an effort to train and assist teachers at the Stars and Rain school for children with autism.
- Bonnie Gillman of Tustin, Calif., inspired by her 11-year-old grandson, saw a critical role grandparents of children with autism could play in supporting their families. In 2006, Gillman founded the Grandparent Autism Network (GAN), a first-of-its-kind all-volunteer nonprofit organization in Orange County, Calif. dedicated to supporting and providing resources to grandparents of children with autism. Since 2006, she has personally planned and provided 42 cost-free events for GAN's 800 members, their families, and the 34 communities she serves in the county. Gillman also developed and maintains the GAN website, which is accessed by people in more than 80 countries who seek guidance and information about autism and advocacy issues for grandparents.