Ashman supports her son, autism cause, with her whole heart
Laura Ashman has gotten involved with numerous organizations trying to help with research funding for autism. From left Sander 11, Laura and Jacob 10. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 7, 2013 9:00AM
RIVERWOODS — Before her son Sander was born eleven years ago, Riverwoods mother Laura Ashman could not have predicted the way in which her life would change.
“We had the sense that he was on the spectrum, but we wanted to make sure,” Laura said, adding that Sander was officially diagnosed with autism at the age of two.
Laura has since traded in her corporate career for a full-time job supporting children with special needs at Shepard Middle School, and sits on the Board of Directors for nonprofit organization Autism Speaks’ Chicago Chapter, whose annual fundraiser “An Evening with the Stars” will soon be taking place.
The fifth annual fundraising event will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24—Oscar night—at the InterContinental Hotel in Rosemont, and will feature a slew of prominent guest speakers and auction items for attendees to bid on before watching the 85th Annual Academy Awards ® telecast on multiple giant screens.
“It is important in the big scheme of what we do for families who struggle via our fundraising. We want people to go out and buy a ticket, contribute any way they are able,” Laura said.
She was humbled when the organization invited her to sit on the Autism Speaks Chicago Chapter’s Board of Directors last year, and her peers have since enjoyed her hard work and dedication to the organization’s cause.
“The fact that she could come and volunteer her time to help us on top of all the other things she does just makes her that much better—superwoman. She is really giving of herself,” said Teri Steinberg, a Highland Park resident that co-founded “An Evening with the Stars” with co-chairs Dan and Kerry Schlaack.
Laura currently budgets her time between Autism Speaks, her full-time job supporting children with special needs at Shepard Middle School, School District 109’s Student Services Advisory Committee at Sander’s school and at Wilmot Elementary.
“There is no pretense with them…there is no cover up—there’s none of that. They are exactly what they are, and they are the most beautiful people,” said Laura on what she’s learned from her son Sander and those like him.
To get people excited about this year’s event, Laura said that they will be auctioning off a basketball autographed by the Chicago Bulls’ popular point guard Derrick Rose and books personally signed by authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. The auction will also feature “Curb Your Enthusiasm” DVDs signed by Chicago native Jeff Garlin, and all-expense paid trips to Hollywood, New York City and the Dominican Republic.
Autism Speaks’ goal is to make a difference that will change the future for those struggling with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). According to the organization, ASD is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development, characterized by different degrees of difficulty with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Since “An Evening with the Stars” was founded in 2006, it has featured guests like NBC5’s President and General Manager Larry Wert, NBC5 Anchorperson Zoraida Sambolin, Second City alum and comedian Jeff Rogers and Chicago Bears Defensive Lineman Israel Idonije, to name a few.
This year’s event will be hosted by ABC’s “190 North” contributor Mark Nilsson, Emmy-award-winning host of WGN-TV’s Chicago’s Best Ted Brunson and Chicago comedienne and OWN Network star Patti Vasquez.
The event raised an impressive $150,000 last year, though organizers are aiming for even higher this time—around $170,000. All money raised will benefit children and families struggling with autism, research and awareness about the disorder.
Tickets for the 2013 Evening begin at $200 per person and up to sponsorships from $1,500 to $10,000 for tables of 4 to 10 people.
For more information about this year’s event or to purchase tickets, visit eveningwiththestars.org, or call Autism Speaks at 224-567-8573.