COLUMBIA — John Cleek Jr. and his wife noticed changes in their son Thomas’ behavior when he was 18 months old. By the time Thomas was 2 years old, he had lost his speech. It wasn’t until their son was nearly 5 years old that they received an official diagnosis of autism.
After the diagnosis, the Cleek family sought early intervention services from an organization called Life Skills TouchPoint Autism Services to develop a routine to help their son live a normal life, Cleek said.
Thomas is now 13 years old, and Cleek’s passion for the cause and participation in the organization has not diminished over the years. Cleek served on the parent advisory committee for eight years and has been a member of the board of directors in Columbia for the last three years.
Ten years ago, Cleek organized an event called Bowling for Autism. The annual event fundraises for the local chapter of TouchPoint Autism Services to increase the availability of services for adults and children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Cleek’s efforts with Bowling for Autism and his service for TouchPoint Autism Services was recognized Tuesday night at the annual Columbia Daily Tribune's Hero Awards, when he was awarded Individual Volunteer of the Year.
Winning the award this year was an honor for Cleek, though winning won’t affect his hard work for the organization, he said.
“All of the people nominated in the category don’t do what we do to win awards,” Cleek said. “We do what we do because we have a passion for the organization that we serve and we want to give back to the community, and because it’s the right thing to do.”
Over the past decade, the Bowling for Autism tournament has grown. In its first year, the tournament raised $9,600, and has raised an average of $25,000 for each of the past seven years.
“With autism being what it is today, affecting one in 88 people, the need for funding is there,” Cleek said.
All of the money raised during the event from individual donations and business sponsors goes to Life Skills TouchPoint Autism Services in Columbia.
The organization is a not-for-profit that seeks to assist individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism, to lead a successful, normal life, Cleek said. Funds go toward college scholarships for young people with autism, financial assistance for children to go to camps, assistance for people to buy items for their homes and toward the organization’s offices to help pay for services.
This year’s tournament will be held at AMF Town and Country Lanes on Providence Road on Saturday. Registration will begin at 11 a.m. and bowling will start at 11:30 a.m.
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