When Laura Hender’s son Matthew was diagnosed with autism just over seven years ago, she realized how little most people knew about the disorder.
Hender thought if people were able to understand autism a little more, it would help them interact with Matthew and alleviate some of the struggles he was facing.
Autism can refer to a range of conditions, and those affected can have issues with social skills, speech and non-verbal communications and repetitive behaviours, as well as possess some unique strengths and differences.
“I was trying to figure out what we could do, and for some reason, I came up with creating a pin that people could wear and could just get the discussion going,” she says. “And I wanted to give back to the community as well, so I decided that we would charge for the pins, and the money would go to a charity of Matthew’s choice.”
Knowing very little about graphic design or what it would take to get a pin made, Hender reached out to Jeanie Martins from Hello Promotions, a local company with some experience in creating similar products.
They were excited to help, and so the endeavour was underway.
Hender put together a rough sketch on her computer and forwarded it over to Hello Promotions to see what they could do with it.
“I sent it to Jeanie and she sent it to her brother, who has some design [experience] and he took my horrible sketch and created the prototype,” she says.
They ordered 200 the first year, but demand has since gown, and now they order 500 pins at a time.
For every year the pins have been offered, the Henders would create a new design.
So, even though this year there were 500 pins available, each one was sold quite quickly.
“There are a lot of collectors in town,” Hender says, “and some of our family is in Newfoundland, so a bunch of pins get sent there. Over the years, we’ve had many local supporters come on board.”
At first, Hender was taking it upon herself to sell to friends, family and colleagues, but as the interest grew, she tried to make it easier for herself and those who were interested in buying the collector pieces.
“I approached Granville’s because I knew it was a busy local business and asked if I could put the pins at the till, and Ted [Martindale] said, ‘Well actually, how about I give you a $5 gift certificate for every pin that you sell?’”
Hender says the pins cost the buyer $5, and they get a $5 coupon for Granville’s Coffee for their support.
“So in essence, Ted buys all the pins every year is what it works out to,” she adds. “So he’s very generous.
“This year, I told him we’re doing 500, and asked if that would be OK, and he said “Of course!”’
After expenses, the Henders raised $1,400 from the pins this year. Each time they sell the pins, Laura gets Matthew to decide on a charity he would like to support.
They have given money to CHAAPS, a horse and dog therapy organization; Evans Consulting, an autism agency in Quesnel; and the BC SPCA, and they have often donated to the Quesnel Special Olympics program.
Hender says in previous years, Matthew has decided to contribute funds to the basketball team, who received new uniforms; and the ski team, who got new jackets. This year, he is planning to donate the $1,400 they have raised to the Special Olympics golf team, who are hoping to plan a golf trip this summer.
With Matthew playing in over six sports over the course of a year, the program has played an integral role in their lives.
“They’re good for supporting people who normally wouldn’t fit in with a public sports teams,” says Matthew. “They can get extra support and coaching, and it’s a better community for them.”
Although, Hender says the pins can be a lot of work year after year, the rewards are numerous.
“One thing I’ve got to say is, when you wear the pins, I could be in Prince George, and someone says to me, ‘Hey, what’s that about?’ and it starts a conversation and it gets people talking about awareness, and they might have questions for us, which I’m always happy to answer, so it’s doing what I intended it to do, so it makes me really happy and proud.”