A resource fair was held at Downtown Pittsfield Inc. prior to the lighting ceremony.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The downtown corridor will be lit up blue this month to raise awareness of autism.
Blue lights have been placed in Park Square, at City Hall, and in windows of various businesses on North Street in part of the Hillcrest Educational Foundation's Light It Up Blue campaign.
This is the second year for the event and the program has grown to include a resource fair, connecting parents of autistic children with resources.
"Last year, we did this just at Hillcrest and, this year, we wanted to make a bigger impact," said Hillcrest Director of Communications Katrina Cardillo. "We knew there were others who provides resources to the community so we wanted to make sure we viewed together."
Joining the effort this year are Community Resources for People with Autism, UCP of Berkshire County, College Internship Program, and Ad Lib, all which provide resources for autistic children and adults. Those organizations joined together in Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s offices Friday evening to share information.
"We just want everybody in the community to know there are resources," Cardillo said. "There are others in the community who don't understand autism."
Following the fair, the groups gathered at Park Square for a lighting ceremony. However, the blue film on the lights weren't working properly so the lighting up ceremony was more symbolic.
Those lights will be fixed, according to Hillcrest Executive Director Shaun Cusson, and flood lights will keep the city's center lit up all month, reminding people in the community both "what autism is, and what it isn't." Cardillo said Hillcrest's main office and the Housatonic Academy will also feature lights.
"Awareness is absolutely critical. We have to spread the word," Cusson said during a brief speaking portion at Park Square in windy and rainy weather. "That awareness shapes understanding, understanding shapes policy and funding."
Part of the effort is to de-stigmatize autism. The local effort builds on the autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks' worldwide effort. Other international landmarks being lit up this month include the Rockefeller Center in New York, the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, Shanghai Tower in China, the Sydney Operate House and others. More than 11,000 buildings will be lit up.
Locally last year, the blue lights were only at City Hall and Park Square. This year, Hillcrest enlisted the help of Downtown Pittsfield Inc. to spread the lights to businesses downtown. Lampposts, spotlights, and small blue lights will be lit up throughout the downtown, including at iBerkshires' offices on North Street.
"Typically during holidays we encourage businesses to decorate the windows with lights so we tapped into that," Downtown Pittsfield Executive Director Kristine Hurley said.
Limelight Productions is lighting up Park Square with flood lights.
Cusson said he envisions the awareness effort growing in coming years.
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