Matthais Zierhut has prepared for this role his whole life.
The 16-year-old high school sophomore is the planner and coordinator of his town’s first Light It Up Blue event in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday, April 2. Autism Speaks created the campaign where more than 1,300 cities spanning all seven continents take part.
The Eiffel Tower glows blue on April 2; the Sydney Opera House and International Space Station do. So why not Town Center? This is what Matthias considers his northern California town’s epicenter, where nightlife, movies and shopping abound.
“The campaign is about raising awareness and showing support for families touched by autism spectrum disorder,” said Matthias.
Neither Matthias nor his three younger brothers have autism but his mom Cynthia has specialized in autism spectrum disorders as a child psychologist for as long as Matthias can remember.
“I’ve always been interested in autism because of my mom,” he said. “One in 88 people has it and it’s hard for them because they feel isolated and like they’re the only ones affected by it. People should be aware of the costs and challenges of having autism.”
“We’ve always exposed our kids to children with developmental disabilities,” said Cynthia. “As a family it’s been our desire to see that our children don’t develop fear or attitudes around kids who have differences. I’ve watched Matthias grow from helping out and being big buddies to kids with differences; so it’s not surprising now he feels he can make a change in increasing awareness and addressing what he sees as a need for the community to come together.”
Matthias is leading the effort to get businesses in Town Center to display blue lights on April 2 because he said he has a vision most people don’t see just yet. The Zierhut family relocated to Australia for 18 months several years ago and it was there Matthias took part in his first Light It Up Blue event.
“I’ve seen what this organization has done in Melbourne,” said Matthias. “On April 2, 2012, we did a walk and all wore blue and let go of thousands and thousands of balloons. Then at night everything lit up blue. I’ve seen what it can be … I want to bring it to our town, too.”
“As soon as we moved back to El Dorado Hills Matthias asked, ‘Where do we light it up blue?’” Cynthia remembered. “The idea spawned from what he experienced in Melbourne.”
So last year, the families first April back home, the Zierhuts passed out blue light bulbs to friends and neighbors. This year Matthias wants to spread the campaign and has enlisted a core group of other volunteers to help him, targeting Town Center before eventually tackling more of the Sacramento region in the years to come.
Matthias and friends are providing the lights to Town Center businesses “unless they want to buy the lights themselves,” he said of blue bulbs, which may be bought at Home Depot. “Hopefully we will have more sponsorships in the future to buy even more lights.”
The best way anyone can help? Shine a blue porch light April 2 or for the entire month.
“It might look weird,” said Matthias. “But when people ask, if people could say, ‘I’m lighting it up blue for autism,’ that would be awesome.”
For more information visit Matthias and the volunteers’ Facebook page at El Dorado Hills Light It Up Blue for Autism Awareness on April 2.