Join the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound in uplifting local nonprofits during their 7th annual Give Local campaign. This year’s campaign will run from November 6-17, and all are invited to participate as together we give back to locally rooted nonprofit causes and missions across the South Puget Sound, including right here in Lewis County, during Give Local.

Community Foundation of South Puget Sound Give Local
Community Foundation of South Puget Sound staff and board members invite you to Give Local this November. Photo courtesy: Community Foundation of South Puget Sound

One participant with Give Local 2023, of the over 140 involved this year, is the Lewis County Autism Coalition. With a vision of “Actively seeking to provide a welcoming community that promotes inclusion and independence for neurodivergent people and their families,” the Coalition promotes lifelong inclusion and independence through community collaboration, self-advocacy, and equitable access to education, recreation and employment. 

Lewis County Autism Coalition Programs Supported by Give Local

What is unique about the Lewis County Autism Coalition is they provide services through the lifespan, not just from birth to 18. Because of their innovative SMART Program, over 50 local kids received an autism diagnosis last year without having to leave the community.

“Early intervention can make such a big difference on how well a child thrives,” shares Nicole Miller, Operations Director of the Coalition.

One of the Coalition’s longest-running board members, Alison Jenkins, has seen firsthand what programs like the SMART Program can mean to families. “They are so relieved that finally they can get something local and find answers,” says Jenkins. “Plus, the resources that come with that and how we can connect them with other agencies.”

Community Foundation of South Puget Sound Give Local
Lewis County Autism Coalition board members Michelle Whitlow (L) and Megan Shepherd (R) host a resource table during a Back to School Resource Fair in August. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Autism Coalition

The Coalition also offers social programs for all ages. The Summer Sensory Day Camp for kids focuses on social and emotional development, motor skill development, and building routines.

“Scholarships are offered for families in need, and the only way we can do that is through community contributions like Give Local,” Miller says.   

Monthly social groups for neurodiverse teens and adults are also available with the Coalition.

“Those programs have been really cool to watch develop,” shares Miller. “First, they are shy and reserved, thinking they don’t need friends. After a while, their confidence is higher, and they advocate for themselves. The impact that has is profound. Some have sought a greater level of employment or maybe their first position, and now they have financial stability.”

Leadership is another skill participants gain from the connections made in these critical social groups. “We’ve had several board members on the autism spectrum and watched their confidence grow through their connections with the neurodiverse program,” says Jenkins. “By being included in the decisions of the Coalition, their voice is heard, and we need it. That’s why we’re there.”

The Coalition also provides education opportunities for educators, parents and adults with autism in a self-advocacy capacity. The 13th Annual SWW Autism Conference on November 1 at Centralia College is a low-cost conference featuring presentations on topics surrounding autism, resources, training and advocacy. 

Community Foundation of South Puget Sound Give Local
Participants from Neurodiverse Connections pose for a photo together during their July event at O’Blarney’s Restaurant in Centralia. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Autism Coalition

The Lewis County Autism Coalition additionally hosts a sister program, Cultivating Inclusion, for people with behavioral, physical or intellectual disabilities, not just autism. This broader umbrella program partners with other agencies to offer essential events such as the Teal Pumpkin, an inclusive Halloween event, and a successful career fair in the spring for people with disabilities and differences. “It’s really exciting to see the Neurodiverse Connections teens and adults at the job fair branching into that part of life,” shares Jenkins.

The Coalition also hosts an annual celebration of people who embody inclusion as nominated by community members. For the first time last year, they awarded microgrants for schools and the Boys & Girls Club to fund inclusion projects. These vital community programs and conferences are available thanks to fundraising efforts like Give Local.

Support an Inclusive Lewis County Through Give Local

The most significant need of the neurodiverse population in Lewis County is access to support. “There are so few programs available, and we do our best, but on a larger state-level scale, the services are pretty sparse,” says Miller. “In rural Lewis County, it’s even harder.”

Monies raised from the Give Local campaign mean the Coalition can offer programs at no or low cost. And your dollars go even further when you contribute through Give Local. Each participating non-profit receives a proportion of a $100,000 Bonus Fund based on how much they raised during the campaign.

“It’s a really cool campaign for a program like ours,” says Miller. “Knowing the needs of our community, we do our best to make our services free or cost-accessible. Having a fundraising platform like Give Local helps us make that possible. We’re a small non-profit, so fundraising has its challenges. Having someone else who offers to handle the logistics is incredible.”

Community Foundation of South Puget Sound Give Local
Numerous job seekers and employers meet during Lewis County Autism Coalition’s first annual Inclusive Career Fair for People with Disabilities and Differences in partnership with the Economic Alliance of Lewis County. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Autism Coalition

“Overall, the goal of Give Local is to let people know there are all these organizations doing amazing things and so many ways you can help,” shares Melissa Rosscup (Mx./They/Them), Programs Coordinator with the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound. “It doesn’t matter if you can give five dollars or a thousand dollars. Maybe you can give your time and volunteer or even share a post of the Give Local campaign instead. It all can make a world of difference, and it takes a village.”

Miller echoes Rosscup’s sentiment that every bit helps. “Not everybody is going to have money to contribute, but get involved in other ways if you can,” Miller adds. “Small organizations like us need financial contributions, but we are always looking for volunteers or people to partner with us. You can even just help spread the message. Any contribution has value. There is no such thing as too small of a contribution. It’s whatever you are willing and able to do.”

Community Foundation of South Puget Sound Give Local
Kids play under a giant parachute during Lewis County Autism Coalition’s Sensory Summer Day Camp, held up by Instructors Sharlene Hoffman and Casandra Johnson in Chehalis. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Autism Coalition

“Maybe it feels like what you can offer is small and doesn’t feel like it can make a big difference,” says Rosscup. “But it does. Even the smallest contributions still make a ripple effect. You can make a difference no matter how you help. Give Local is a great way to see how community can be built and how our lives are intertwined.”

With non-profits supporting everything from inclusion, like the Lewis County Autism Coalition, to caring for our land, youth services, food security, art and more, there’s a match to what matters to you that you can give to easily. It’s simple to learn more about these outstanding organizations participating in Give Local from November 6 to 17 by browsing their story pages during the campaign. One hundred percent of donations will go to your non-profit of choice, so contribute to a healthy Lewis County and Give Local.


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