Angels Walk 2017 Breaks Record Attendance with 24,000 People

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Movement notes shift in advocacy from awareness to acceptance of people with autism

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The yearly Angels Walk for Autism continues to break barriers as this year’s attendance ballooned to 24,000 from last year’s 16,000.

This developed as event organizers led by the Autism Society Philippines (ASP) bared that their advocacy had already shifted from awareness of people with autism to acceptance.

Participants, composed of children with autism, their family, community workers, local government officials, members of the international community and other supporters, have packed the Arena to the bleachers with many attendees opting to wait outside.

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Mona Veluz, President of the ASP said, this year was overwhelming because of the record attendance. “We are just so honored and humbled by the number of people who participated this year because it has been tremendous,” she said.

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The Angels Walk had indeed come a long way since its launch 17 years ago in Roxas Boulevard where only several families of children with autism gathered to raise awareness on the people with the condition.

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This is year, added Veluz, their advocacy had moved from awareness to acceptance as their children have started to find employment in various companies.

Veluz said from their organization alone, they have placed more 200 people with autism who have found employment in various companies.

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“Now we are seeing more companies accepting diversity. There had been a spike for the past year because previously there were only handful but now we have more than 200 people with autism gainfully employed in various companies,” she said.

The reason for employment, she added, has also shifted from previously being out of charity to the capability and unique talent of people with autism.  “Now it’s not anymore charity why they are hiring people with autism but it’s because of their unique sets of skills like those that are in SM SaveMore. Our boys are valued because they have excellent spatial skills. They have a good sense of order so that is useful in managing stocks,” she said.

Matt Somera, who works in SaveMore as stocks attendant said he is glad that he is earning his keep and is able to help people in his job. When asked what he did with his first paycheck, Somera said he deposited it in his own bank account.

Other people with autism who spoke during the Angels Walk were Mike Almendrala who works as an administrative assistant at the Philippine Information Agency and Yanna Aragon who is the Variable Resource Administrator at IBM Philippines.

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Engr. Bien Mateo, Director of the SM Cares’ Program on Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) said SM will expand its program in the coming months. “We are ready to expand the OJT training programs of PWAs to more branches of Savemore as preparatory program for full employment,” Mateo said.

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The Angels Walk for Autism, spearheaded by the Autism Society Philippines (ASP) in partnership with SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Prime Holdings, Inc., and the Mall of Asia Arena, is now on its 17th year.

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SM Cares is the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of SM Prime Holdings, Inc. Its advocacies include Programs on Persons with Disabilities, Senior Citizens, Children and Youth, Women and Breastfeeding, OFWs (SM Global Pinoy), Environment and Sustainability and Social Entrepreneurship.