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Sister Spotlight: Daron Blankenship

Daron with her brother Reece

Daron with her brother Reece

            This sister spotlight is dedicated to Daron Blankenship. As Alpha Chi’s we have a passion for philanthropy and giving back to the community, but Daron has gone above and beyond as her passion for autism awareness has made her the Executive Director of AutismUGA. Keep reading to learn more about Daron’s experiences with autism and AutismUGA. 

Tell us about AutismUGA   AutsimUGA is a student run organization that works with schools, families, local support groups, speech pathologists, and other community members to build support, raise awareness, and volunteer with those impacted by autism. We have 2 main fundraising events each year: one in the spring and one in the fall. Our big spring fundraising event is a pong tournament held downtown! This is only the second year we have held this event, but we have had great experiences and feedback from it so far with all of our participants being very competitive. During the fall we typically host a 5k on campus. For Fall 2015, the executive board is planning on changing it around and possibly doing a 1 mile obstacle course - the obstacles being all of the challenges that children with autism have to overcome every day.

What made you want to get involved?   My little brother has nonverbal autism, and with him only being a year younger than me, my life has been completed formed based on him. In high school I helped start a club with his special needs class to integrate students in the non-special needs classrooms in with students in his classroom with extracurricular activities. I loved this club so much in high school that I wanted to get involved with special needs on campus. Fall semester freshman year I was looking for an organization that I could become a part of, I stumbled upon AutismUGA, and the rest is history!

What do you wish more people knew about autism?   I think the most important thing I have learned about Autism is that verbal or nonverbal, we need to give people with autism more credit, they are some of the smartest people I have ever met. Just because people with autism do not act the same way as you, it doesn’t make them less smart or capable. The children with autism that I have had the blessing of meeting throughout my life have proved to be the most kind, heart-felt, caring, and incredibly talented individuals I have ever met (and some of them I have never actually been able to speak to). I think it is important for everyone to read books written by people with autism, and to not listen all the time to the way certain types of media portray autism. The best way someone can learn is to go straight to the source.

What do you love about AXO?   Something that I love about AXO is how caring all of the individuals in this sorority are. Many of my friends come from different backgrounds, and we all have our own stories, but when something happens in our lives we are all there for each other - and it's not just for that day or week when something happens, everyone checks up on you all the time and it is amazing to feel so loved by such a large group. Recently, my nonverbal brother (who is 20 years old) began communicating for the first time. Can you imagine being able to FINALLY have conversations with someone who you have always wondered what has been going on in his mind for 20 years? Of course I was shaken and excited and extremely emotional, but throughout this entire experience girls in AXO were JUST as excited for Reece as I was, and some hadn't even met him before! This happened around October, and even now girls in AXO will come up to me asking about Reece and how he is doing, what new things he has said, and how I am doing...some have even joined AutismUGA! AXO is full of incredible individuals that have impacted me in a multitude of ways and I cannot thank them enough for the support and friendship I have had with them for so many years.

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Sister Spotlight: Laura Pontari

This month, we are focusing the spotlight on our fabulous sister, Laura Pontari. Laura hails from Pennsylvania, spent her summer in Spain, and now frequently spends the day at the Georgia State Capital in Atlanta (it's casual). She has been doing amazing work for Spencer Frye, an elected member of the Georgia House of Representatives. Read on to learn more about Laura's experience!

What is your major and what kind of career are you hoping for?

I am currently majoring in Spanish, Political Science, and Economics, and am pursuing a dual degree with a Masters in Public Administration. I love to learn and hope to stay in school as long as possible, so I will hopefully attend law school after graduation. After graduating law school, I hope to work in the public sector, and eventually pursue a career in politics

What do you love about AXO?

I love that AXO encourages us to be successful. Our national motto is "Real. Strong. Women.," and I believe that this is something AXO actively encourages. AXOs are campus leaders, and I am lucky to be a part of a group of such intelligent, driven, young women.

Tell us about your internship!

I am a legislative research intern with Representative Spencer Frye, who represents the wonderful city of Athens. As an intern I am working as a legislative aide and am traveling to the capital with Representative Frye and his chief of staff once a week. During my time at the capital I research and write memo on bills that will be heard in Representative Frye's committees, and provide supplemental research for on-going projects. 

What's the cooler thing you've done so far?

As interns we are required to write memo on bills that Representative Frye will be voting on, and last week I got to watch one of the bills I had written a memo on pass during committee. It was so cool to watch it in real time and hear the discussion concerning the bill and to watch the voting process as it passed.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your internship?

Learning firsthand from Representative Frye. He has been so patient with the intern team, and answers any questions I have, big or small. The personal connection I've gotten to make with him and Lauren, the chief of staff, has made the internship very rewarding.

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