The Cape Coral Police Department is helping to raise awareness of autism this month by joining the Light It Up Blue campaign, a worldwide effort.
Monday, April 2, marked World Autism Awareness Day and the kickoff for the third annual campaign and Autism Awareness Month. Created by Autism Speaks, Light It Up Blue aims to raise funds for and awareness of autism.
One in 88 people and 1 in 54 boys are affected by autism, according to new information. Autism Speaks is an autism science and advocacy organization.
As part of the campaign, nearly 3,000 structures in more than 600 cities and 45 countries were illuminated blue on Monday, including the Empire State Building, Toyko Tower in Japan and the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Brazil.
Locally, the Cape agency joined the effort by lighting up blue the Protector statue located in the front plaza of the police department headquarters.
"Light It Up Blue is an international movement," Officer Daniel Barbour, a five-year member of the CCPD and a full-time college student, said.
He explained that when people see things lit up, questions usually follow.
"It opens the door for discussion," Barbour said. "What is autism - how it affects a child and their family. It can affect families in different ways."
Barbour, whose 9-year-old nephew has Asperger's syndrome - an autism spectrum disorder - approached the CCPD about the campaign. He recently helped found an Autism Speaks U chapter at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Autism Speaks U is a collegiate-level offshoot of the larger organization, Autism Speaks. The FGCU chapter is the second chapter in Florida.
"What we're trying to do is raise awareness and funding both," he said, adding that funds raised by the chapters go toward Autism Speaks.
The chapter partnered with the Cape police for Light It Up Blue.
"This is the first big thing for us," Barbour said. "We've been looking for ways to really get our name out there and start gaining members."
The FGCU chapter currently has between 10 and 15 members. One of the group's goals is to reach out to the community and effect positive change.
"The amount of money that gets dedicated to autism research is dramatically less than other juvenile issues, diseases," he said. "So, we're trying to change that disparity a little bit."
Cape business owners and homeowners are invited to join the campaign by replacing lights outside or inside their homes and businesses with blue ones.
"Everybody seems really impressed with it," Barbour said of the blue-lit police statue. "We've also gotten a lot of positive feedback online."
For those who do not own any blue lights, Home Depot is selling them. One dollar from every bulb sold at the store will go toward Autism Speaks.
"Everybody can buy a light bulb and put it in front of their house," he said.
Two weeks ago, the chapter held a fund-raiser at the Moe's at Gulf Coast Town Center. It has another planned in the coming weeks at California Pizza Kitchen. With an event flyer, a percentage of the bill goes to the chapter.
For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
FGCU's Autism Speaks U also has a Facebook page.
More information on Light It Up Blue can be found at: LightItUpBlue.org.