Paul Whitehill said that because he knows so many parents who have or work with children with special needs, it made perfect sense to mark the anniversary of the May 22, 2011, tornado with a fundraiser that benefits them.

“Children are the future of Joplin,” Whitehill said. “Both of these organizations are nonprofit organizations that exist through donations and help special-needs children.”

Whitehill and others organized Art, Autism and Remembrance, a fundraising concert Thursday night at JB’s Downtown Joplin to benefit Art Feeds and the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism. Local bands Me Like Bees, Carter Hulsey and The Too’s performed, and area restaurants donated gift certificates and more for a silent auction.

 The two organizations work together often, especially since the tornado. Meg Bourne Hulsey, founder and CEO of Art Feeds, said staff members regularly work with students at the Leffen Center.

The tornado also affected each of those groups significantly. The center’s former clinic on Jackson Avenue was destroyed, yet staff members found a way to continue offering applied behavior analysis treatment about a week after the storm.

Kristy Parker, clinical director, said the center found temporary space at the center formerly known as The Bridge. The autism center is now housed in a long-term temporary space at 3230 Wisconsin Ave., and staff members are raising funds for a permanent location on Picher Avenue.

“We are still in the planning phase, but we plan on building in the new location,” Parker said. “As we think about serving not only young children, but older ones and teens, we want to be a communitywide center for autism.”

Hulsey said a frantic search for two neighbor children after the tornado changed her thinking about the organization she had just created. The group changed its focus to give children an artistic way to work through a life-changing, terrifying event.

Since then, it has worked with thousands of students in schools and other organizations that work with children, using artistic projects as a form of creative therapy.

“I was wondering how they would cope with what they had seen that night,” Hulsey said. “This gives them a platform to build some resilience and confidence.”

 Both organizations have expanded their missions since the tornado.

Because of a change in state law that now covers applied behavior analysis treatment, Parker said, the center is working with more children with autism spectrum disorders. Funds from the concert will go toward construction of the permanent quarters and toward scholarships for future students, she said.

Hulsey said Art Feeds will expand in the fall to serve every school in Joplin, and also will start a branch in Moore, Oklahoma, where a tornado struck in May 2013. Proceeds from the fundraiser will be used to expand and strengthen those programs, she said.

Whitehill said he hoped the concert would raise up to $8,000, which would be split between the two organizations. He also said the concert would become an annual event. Proceeds were still being counted Thursday night.

Switching schedules

PAUL WHITEHILL, organizer of Art, Autism and Remembrance, said all three of the bands that performed — Me Like Bees, Carter Hulsey and The Too’s — rearranged national tours to participate in the fundraiser. “This might be one of the last times this year they perform together,” Whitehill said.

Source: The Joplin Globe | May 22, 2014