- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

The first of what many hope will become an annual benefit in the Washington area for Cure Autism Now (CAN) kicked off in Potomac Saturday night, with local political leaders, parents of autistic children and a dash of celebrities joining in the party.
R. Sargent Shriver and Eunice Shriver played hosts to the event at their Maryland home. The benefit featured a presentation about CAN and its mission to educate policy-makers and the public about the growing needs of families caring for autistic children and the lack of research on the disease.
The festivities were enlivened by an auction that offered golf outings with celebrities, a day on the set of NBC's hit TV drama "The West Wing" and a spectator's box at the Indianapolis 500.
On hand was the Shrivers' son, Mark K. Shriver, a Maryland legislator and candidate for Congress running against longtime Republican incumbent Constance A. Morella.
"We're raising money for a great cause," Mr. Shriver said. "I have no doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. It is the only thing that ever does."
Jonathan Shestack, a longtime family friend, praised the Shrivers for opening their museumlike home for the event, saying he "couldn't think of a family more dedicated to public service."
Mr. Shestack, a co-founder of CAN, has an autistic son. He said his organization started "with a thousand bake sales and lemonade stands" to become an instrument for change.
"A few years ago, there were a dozen scientists working on autism. Now there are more than 3,000," Mr. Shestack said. "Before, the National Institutes of Health spent $5 million on research on autism; now they spend $30 million."
Mr. Shestack decried a lack of urgency in seeking a cure for autism, likening the disease to a crime spree in which "one out of every 250 children [is] being abducted."
The sparkle of celebrity came in the form of actors from "The West Wing" and "ER," another hit drama on NBC.
Anthony Edwards, who played Dr. Mark Greene on "ER" for a decade before the character was killed off this season, said he joined CAN six years ago. He now serves on the board.
"Kids don't have a voice so a celebrity can give them one," Mr. Edwards said. "Besides, I was impressed with their drive. These parents can't be stopped. They don't take no for an answer. They spend every day making their life better for their children."
About 300 people turned out for the early evening reception, nibbling on roast beef and crab cakes and chatting up local political leaders and entrepreneurs such as Mary Kane, a Republican candidate for the state Legislature, and builder Gary Gosnell.
"See, it really is a bipartisan event," quipped event co-chairwoman Christine DuFour, who said she was pleased with the turnout. "I am overwhelmed. This is the first year we are here and I hope the first of many to come."
Organizers estimated that the event raised $300,000.
Lisa Matthews of Frederick, Md., worked the bar as a volunteer Saturday night. An active member of CAN, she has three boys with autism.
"This is a great organization," she said. "They have helped me so much and do so much to increase awareness. I am happy to be here, helping and enjoying myself."
R. Sargent Shriver said he was pleased to open his home to the event and likened the young organization's efforts to "being at the beginning of a big race that hasn't been run before."
When asked if he would like to be host again, he laughed and said, "I hope so."

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