Quilts evoke feelings of comfort and community, made up of individual squares, sewn together in a patchwork to create unique designs. They tell stories, or commemorate special events and occasions.
In 2007, the Long Island Walk Planning Committee wanted to honor the families and schools who built the Walk into the largest Walk for autism in the world. The Walk Co-Chair at the time suggested that we create a quilt that would serve as a vibrant visual history of the Walk. New teams squares could be added each year. The committee unanimously agreed that it was a fantastic idea.
We provided plain muslin quilt squares to our Walk Teams and asked them to decorate the squares to represent their loved ones affected by autism. We were thrilled and moved by the response we got! We looked forward to getting the mail each day, as manila envelopes containing decorated quilt pieces started to arrive. Some were elaborate and some were simple. They included photographs, drawings, inspirational words and sayings. They were done in ink, magic markers, paint, sequins and even embroidery. As unique as each quilt square was, the common factor among them was the pride, joy and love for the individuals they depicted. The squares were a celebration of autism and its special gifts.
Those squares came together beautifully on our first length of blue felt. Although we wanted to display the quilt at the Walk, we realized that it might be harmful to expose it to potentially unstable weather conditions at Jones Beach. Instead, we unveiled the quilt – indoors – at the Awards Reception in January. Our Walk Teams were thrilled to see their artful creations on display, honoring their loved ones affected by autism! Those that hadn’t made quilt squares were sorry not to have participated. They couldn’t wait for the next year’s Walk to add their own pieces. As the Walk grew, from tens of thousands, to over twenty thousand, to upwards of thirty thousand, so grew the quilt. We now have half a dozen lengths of blue felt, festooned with quilt squares.
Word of the quilt spread throughout the autism community as well. This year, New York State Senator Charles J. Fuschillo Jr, (R – Merrick) a dedicated autism advocate , made special arrangements to display the quilt in the New York State Capitol, in honor of Autism Awareness Month. “These quilts are a very moving way to tell the stories of families affected by autism. Displaying them will help remind us how much of an impact autism has on our communities and the need for continued awareness and research,” said Senator Fuschillo. “I thank the members of Autism Speaks, especially Michael Giangregorio, for helping to put this display together.” The Long Island Walk Quilt is on display in the New York State Capitol, Legislative Office Building in Albany through April 16.
For more information about the Long Island Walk, visit our Long Island Facebook page.