Little girl raises money to replace toys that Autism Society lost in flood

With some impressive assistance from one of its youngest clients, the Autism Society of Cape Breton has completed repairs to its office and meeting space that were damaged by the Thanksgiving Day flood.

"We're back home," said Samantha Gascoyne, the society's board chairwoman, noting that there were "a lot of big smiles" when they moved back into their building near downtown Sydney on Feb. 28.

"It feels good," said client Hallie O'Reilly, an eight-year-old girl who took it upon herself to carry out her own fundraising effort to replace some of the toys that were lost in the flood.

In keeping with the April 2 international tradition of lighting blue lights on World Autism Awareness Day, Hallie sold blue light bulbs to people in the community.

She raised $215, and with her mother's help she bought building blocks, balls, ribbons and Rubik's Cubes for the other children who attend the centre.

"It was really like starting all over again," said Gascoyne.

Despite being welcomed by the Wellness Centre at the dome at Cape Breton University and running programs at a rented church hall, attendance did fall off.

But the numbers are returning to normal since going back to familiar surroundings and routine, which are very important to kids with autism, said Gascoyne.

The repair bill was $13,000, but the contractor has offered an installment plan for payment, she said.

Gascoyne said the centre still needs some child-friendly furniture, art supplies, sensory toys and a fridge that she hopes will be donated.

The Cape Breton Highlanders basketball team and Casino Nova Scotia helped the Autism Society raise money this spring. The events made $2,800 to put toward the repair bill.

Grants from the provincial Health and Wellness Department and the province's financial relief fund will eventually help the society clear its debt, Gascoyne said.

More fundraisers are coming up, including the society's biggest, Walk the Walk for Autism, on June 10.