Organization holds yearly campaign to raise money for Cleveland County students with autism

SHELBY, NC (WBTV) - A local organization is taking a unique approach to an annual fundraising effort. Not only does every penny the organization raises goes to a special cause, but it's making a huge difference in the lives of students.

Hunter Sipes, 19, is a senior at Shelby High School and like a lot of seniors, he's thinking about college, the future and what he plans to do. When he was asked what he'd like to study in college he replied, "Well, if I had to be honest, I could say, like doing radio work, or being part of the news."

Sipes says he likes to inform people. "…Letting people know about what's going on in the community or in the state that we live in."

He is a very sharp young man and has done well in school.  Sipes is also one of a handful of students at Shelby High School who has autism.

When he graduates in June, he'll take with him a $1,000 scholarship he was recently awarded.  "It felt pretty honorable, I'll tell you that," Sipes said.

"For Hunter to get that, I mean he just, it really made him feel like, man I've done something," Sipes' mother, Crystal Hunter, said.

That $1,000 scholarship comes from the Veterans of Foreign Wars of Shelby Post 4066, which holds a campaign every year to raise money for students with autism in Cleveland County.

"Cleveland County has really gotten behind us and supported this program.  It's just really unbelievable," Roger Vassey, who is a VFW member, said.

Since beginning the organization five years ago, the VFW has raised more than $100,000 for children with autism. All that money goes into a fund with Cleveland County Schools.

Teachers can request money from the fund to purchase tools or services to help them support their students who have autism.

Rachel Bye is a teacher who works extensively with students who have autism. "We have used the VFW funds for things like sending students to summer camp, like a camp scholarship," Bye said.  "We've bought some extra little books and curriculum and things that will be extra things to help out.  We've gone on some field out shopping to the store."

David Allen, who is the principal at Shelby High School, said the organization is very supportive of its students. "We obviously love partnering with a group that is supportive of our students and the VFW has been outstanding with that."

The VFW of Shelby says it is proud that 100 percent of the money raised goes into the autism fund.

"We just have such a giving membership, and we don't want to keep a dime of it," Gene Ramsey, who is the commander of VFW Shelby, said. "We understand that this is probably the most important issue as far as the children of Cleveland County and there's no way we would keep any of that money.

"I can honestly say that there's no child left behind in Cleveland County that has autism," Vassey said.

Sipes' mom says she is incredibly proud of how well her son has done in school, in part due to the support of the VFW.

"I think it's wonderful. The VFW, they have really stepped up and helped the community, the kids in this community," she said. "I think autism awareness needs to be, this is something that needed to be brought to light and they have done that.  They're making opportunities for these kids that originally they wouldn't have.  And now through the VFW they now have opportunities to excel."

April is Autism Awareness Month.

If you would like to help support the VFW of Shelby Post 4066 fundraiser, you can contact Jake Gales at 704-487-9093 or go to the VFW of Shelby's Facebook page for more details. Their goal for this year is $50,000.

They have several fundraisers coming up including a golf tournament on Friday, an oyster roast and an auction which are planned for next month, as well as a poker run.

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