Student idea leads to nationwide fundraising effort for autism

University Park, Pa. — In 2006, a year before they graduated from Penn State, then-students Adam Dorfman and Andrew Moses co-founded a fundraising event to benefit autism, a growing national concern. They believed the autism community needed a voice, and their efforts have resulted in $450,000 being raised for the cause over the last three years — and in more college students joining the effort.

Originally called “We Are … Curing Autism Now,” the 5K race/3K walk has now become an annual event. Organized with help from Penn State chapters of the Beta Sigma Beta fraternity and Pi Beta Phi sorority the event benefits Autism Speaks, the world's largest autism advocacy organization. Autism Speaks increases awareness of autism spectrum disorders, funds research of its causes, prevention and treatment and advocates for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

"There are so many great causes out there to support, but we felt that autism was one that wasn't supported at the college level and would be a great initiative to take on," explained Dorfman, who now works for a nanotechnology company in Havre de Grace, Md. "We wanted to spread autism awareness and raise funds for the foundation that ultimately allocates the resources to research, community groups and other projects."

According to information released by Autism Speaks, autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and is characterized by impaired social interaction and behavioral challenges. One in 150 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and the rate of those affected has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.

This year three universities across the United States will launch their own chapters of Penn State students' original effort, which has been renamed Autism SpeaksU, and Dorfman and Moses — who works for KPMG LLP in its New Jersey audit practice — will be there to oversee their fundraising events. They hope this national launch by Autism Speaks will lead to more and more collegiate and community participation each year.

Moses and Dorfman's first event in 2006 attracted more than 3,500 participants.

"We were shocked to see the community turnout at our inaugural event. Penn State, State College and Central Pennsylvania in general is like one close-knit family. Members of the community, businesses and University and local officials offered tremendous support," Dorfman said.

The two hope to see the same kind of support given at the University of Maryland-College Park, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of California-Davis at their individual events in the coming year, then see four more college campuses add an annual fundraising event in 2010.

With great success in philanthropy, Moses and Dorfman know that it's hard for college students to juggle schoolwork, personal time and event planning, but they suggest that students who want to take on a similar endeavor while in school should pick a cause they can connect with and are passionate about.

"Like everything in life, if you are not passionate you will ultimately become bored with it and find yourself questioning your involvement," said Dorfman. "Taking on these philanthropic events allows you to gain tremendous skills that cannot be learned by taking a class. It is real-world experience that is priceless."

Next spring's event at Penn State will be held April 4, 2009.

For more information about Autism SpeaksU, visit

Last Updated November 18, 2010