YATESVILLE — Sixteen years ago, information and support regarding autism was hard to come by. Duryea’s Ron and Brenda D’Eliseo just had their youngest child, Robert. Shortly after Robert was born, he was diagnosed with autism.
Instead of worrying about the situation, the Duryea couple, who had three children already, founded the Earthly Angels Autism Fund of the Luzerne Foundation. In the last 16 years, the fund has raised more than $200,000 for families and children dealing with autism.
Monday night marked another great milestone and event for the foundation.
The Pittston Area wrestling team held its annual benefit match against Wallenpaupack. Prior to the game, the team sold T-shirts in support of autism awareness. In all, the event raised $1,200 for Earthly Angels. However, it was Robert that took center stage.
Robert, now a senior at Pittston Area, was honorary captain for the game and spent the match watching from the bench with Pittston Area wrestler Ryan Lombardo. Wallenpaupack would eventually win the match over the Patriots.
“The kid is 100 percent positive all the time,” Ron said. “This really means a lot. Robert is a senior this year and it’s our alma mater. Just to have the community involved means a lot.”
The front of the T-shirts read: “Autism speaks and the wrestlers listen — Pittston Area vs. Wallenpaupack.” The back of the shirts have the words: “Coming together is the beginning, staying together is the process, working together is the success.”
When Robert was diagnosed, doctors told the family he would need a harness and medication.
“We didn’t go that route,” Ron said. “We learned more about it and eventually wanted to help other people out.”
Prior to the match, the D’Eliseo family was presented the check with both Pittston Area and Wallenpaupack wrestlers combining for a photo.
“He wants to hang (the check) in his room,” Brenda said of her son Robert.
The Earthly Angels Autism Fund was founded in 2000 and is dedicated to helping local children and their families afflicted with autism. The foundation’s focus is to increase autism awareness and provide funding to qualified organizations for autistic services, support and education.
“The foundation is doing well,” Ron said. “We’ve given out in excess of $200,000 in the last 16 years. Every year we give away between $8,000 to $10,000. It depends on how many requests come in. We’re still active in the community.”
The very first event the D’Eliseo family had was the Ride For Robert, a motorcycle run to raise money for the cause in 2000. The foundation grew from the ride and raised $40,000 by 2004. That year, Ron was named the 2004 Sunday Dispatch Person of the Year.
Both Ron and Brenda are graduates of Pittston Area. Their eldest, Kristen, is a personal trainer, while their middle child, Ronnie, is a student at East Stroudsburg University.
Ron said as the family gets older it’s more difficult to raise money like they have in the past. He said events like these can go a long way.
To donate to the fund, mail a check payable to “Earthly Angels Autism Fund” to 32 Huckleberry Lane, Duryea, PA 18642. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“He’s an angel on Earth,” Ron said about his son. “He was pumped about this for three weeks.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick