The Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation hosted their autism awareness event at the Breslin Center on Tuesday. The event, which honored supporters of the foundation and raised money for its programs, was attended by members of MSU athletics such as Athletic Director Alan Haller, Head Football Coach Mel Tucker and Head Women’s Basketball Coach Suzy Merchant.
The foundation focuses on education, advocacy, economic opportunity and humanitarianism and most recently has worked with lawmakers to pass legislation that makes for friendlier sensory interactions between people with autism and police.
Xavier DeGroat is the leader of the foundation. At the age of four, DeGroat was diagnosed with autism and began his life as an advocate in 2009.
"People with autism have a lot to offer society and society needs to condone the differences in their behaviors instead of labeling them less," DeGroat has said in the past.
The night was spent recognizing those who supported DeGroat in his efforts and raising money so he can continue his work, which has added up to countless hours trying to bring awareness to the cause, something that tucker can attribute to his relentless attitude.
“I met Xavier not too long after I arrived in East Lansing and I was just really impressed with his relentless attitude and his passion for bringing awareness to autism,” Tucker said.
On the other end of that is Merchant, who sees the same passion and energy in DeGroat that she gives towards her team while coaching.
"He just brings so much passion and energy and wants to make great change in the world and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all here for is to make the world a better place," Merchant said.
Among those recognized was head men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, who received the mentorship and community services award. His son and Michigan State junior guard Steven Izzo accepted on his behalf and offered Xavier his family’s full support to the organization.
Mike Yankowski, the former chief of the Lansing Police Department, received the public service award.
“He became the very absolute first police executive to help our foundation build a better understanding between law enforcement and autism.” DeGroat said.
In his acceptance speech Yankowski spoke about how he was grateful to have met Xavier.
“In the journey of life you meet new people, have new experiences and sometimes you’re just fortunate to meet people that inspire you,” Yankowski said.
The philanthropy and community service award went to Patrick Gillespie, a longtime supporter of the foundation. In his acceptance speech, he told the crowd how he was inspired by Xavier and how he brightens everyone's day when he comes by the office.
Anthony Ianni, a former MSU basketball player and published author, was the recipient of the advocacy award. Ianni, who has autism, has been advocating for autism awareness and motivational speaking for the past nine years.
”When I left Michigan State Coach Izzo told me one thing, 'Go make an impact in your community,'" Ianni said. "And I live off those words everyday. Go make an impact in that community.”
The proceeds from the event will go to the foundation to help DeGroat continue his work to promote autism awareness and acceptance.
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