Guest blog and photo provided by Dianna DeClerk Varady, executive director of the Arkansas Autism Resource & Outreach Center (AAROC)
Next week the Arkansas Autism Resource & Outreach Center (AAROC) will host its 4th annual “All Out For Autism” benefit at Next Level Events in historic Union Station in downtown Little Rock.
This year’s event is sure to be a night to remember, with live music, a delicious dinner, a raffle prize donated by Cecil’s Fine Jewelry, a silent auction and a live auction featuring a stunning designer piece donated by New York fashion designer Cynthia Rose (who will also be joining us for the event!).
As Director of AAROC, naturally I’m thrilled that – thanks to the generosity of our many donors – we’re able to host an event that is both entertaining for everyone who attends and provides us with the resources we need to continue serving families in Arkansas living with autism. What’s even more important to me – both as a professional working in the field of autism and developmental disabilities and as a parent of someone diagnosed with autism – is the opportunity this year to recognize our honoree, Anna Warwick Riggs, for her many contributions to the autism and developmental disability community.
Anna serves in many roles, but none have been more important to her than the role of Mom to her oldest daughter, Emily, a 27 year-old young woman with autism. Anna began raising awareness about autism and the needs of the autism community long before most people had even heard of autism spectrum disorders and at a time when most experts believed that it was rare.
To say that she is a trailblazer is truly an understatement. Anna was instrumental in establishing the Arkansas Autism Society in 1996 and later served as its’ Executive Director, leading the first organized advocacy effort in Arkansas focused on the needs of individuals with autism and their families. She’s been an active contributor to the system of services for individuals with developmental disabilities in Arkansas, serving on countless committees and task forces focused on improving the quality of life for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Families like mine who have young children or teens with autism probably don’t realize that, thanks to Anna, our kids have opportunities that children diagnosed even 20 years ago could never have dreamed of. We owe her a debt of gratitude that can probably never be repaid.
My admiration for Anna Riggs goes back to my earliest days as an advocate when I first learned of her work on behalf of the autism community, and it grows by the day. She has strength and determination far beyond what words can describe. This is evidenced by her desire to move forward with plans for our event even after the tragic, unexpected death of her daughter, Emily, on October 8, 2017. Anna was Emily’s strongest supporter and advocate across her 27-year path with autism.
Even in her personal grief, she continues to reach out to help other families who are living with autism. It seems only right to go “all out” on November 9th in recognizing Anna for her achievements and paying tribute to her daughter, Emily Marion Vollers.
About the author: Dianna lives in Little Rock with her husband, Steve, and their son, Bradley.