Tuesday, April 24, 2012

During the month of April, Fairmont State University is maroon and white – and blue – because of one family’s effort to raise awareness about autism. Corey Cleavenger, a sophomore at FSU majoring in Biology/Chemistry, had a bright idea and approached the Physical Plant that maintains the shared main campus of FSU and Pierpont Community & Technical College.

He wanted to place blue lights on campus during the month of April as part of the national Light It Up Blue autism awareness campaign sponsored by Autism Speaks. For more information about the campaign, visit www.lightitupblue.org.

According to the Autism Speaks web site, autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders - autism spectrum disorders - caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated one in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum.

“Corey came to us at the Physical Plant and asked permission to put blue light bulbs across campus for Autism Awareness Month. It is nice to see a student so passionate, and we were glad to do everything we could to make his happen for him,” said Stephanie Slaubaugh, Construction Project Manager.

The idea was a result of a team effort by Corey and his brother, Cody, who is working on a service project as a student at Fairmont Senior High School. Their brother Chad attends East Fairmont High School. Their parents are Jim and Wendy Cleavenger of Fairmont. For the Cleavenger family, raising awareness about autism is personal.

“This is the first time the campus has had the blue lights. We’ve always wanted to do something like this, and it’s a way for me to give back to my University,” Corey said. “The main idea is to spark curiosity. With questions come answers. We want to raise awareness for autism. My family understands the importance of supporting someone with a disability because my brother Chad has autism. He hopes to one day attend college.”

The Cleavenger family purchased 35 blue light bulbs with the understanding that the Physical Plant would keep them and use them again next April. Zack Hickman of the Physical Plant installed the bulbs in prominent campus locations, including the globes in the front of Hardway Hall and at the entrance signs to campus, as well as the exterior lighting around buildings in the inner campus.

“The people at the Physical Plant made the blue lights happen for my family. I can’t express how grateful we are that they could do such a thing for kids with autism. It took my breath away. The lights look so nice. My whole family came to see them. Chad lights up with a smile when he knows people are fighting for him and other kids with autism,” Corey said.

Next year, he would like to see the effort expand into an event involving other students on campus. At FSU, Corey is a member of the Soccer Club, the American Chemical Society and the biology honorary society. He hopes to one day be a doctor to help fight autism through medical research.