Ben's Fund was born out of a very personal experience for John and Traci Schneider. As they went through their own struggles of having a young child with autism—their oldest son Ben was diagnosed when he was 3 years old—they realized how isolating, challenging and financially difficult it can be to have a child with autism.
As the Schneiders settled into their new lives in Seattle, where John had taken over as general manager of the Seahawks, they decided to try to help other families going through similar struggles, lunching Ben's Fund in 2012, which partners with FEAT of Washington to give grants to local families with children on the autism spectrum.
So six years later, it's only fitting that the work of Ben's Fund continues to mirror the Schneider family's experience as Ben, who turned 16 earlier this year, moves closer to adulthood. Beginning on April 2—April is Autism Awareness Month—Ben's Fund will begin taking applications for young adult grants, serving 19 to 23 year olds. Until now, Ben's Fund had allocated grants to families with children 18 years old and younger.
"What I've heard from families and heard from the community is that this age group, it's just a struggle," Traci Schneider said. "It's under-supported, and it's a really big struggle for families and these kiddos to figure out what life is going to look like and what they're going to do. I figured we're going to be along this path very soon anyway, so why would we not create a source of information and support for people who are going through the same things we are? Putting together the young adult stuff is definitely supporting and mirroring what we would do for Ben anyway. It's just basically kind of sharing that information and using Ben's Fund and FEAT to help get that information out, so hopefully not everyone has to reinvent the wheel."
A big reason the Schneiders have been able to expand the reach of Ben's Fund has been the impressive generosity of people in the region. Since its launch, Ben's Fund has raised $2.9 million—that number will easily eclipse $3 million after the annual Prime Time celebrity waiter event takes place in April—and given out 1,400 grants.
"Ben's Fund has been more successful than we ever thought it would be, than we ever imagined it could be, and because we've been so successful, we feel like we need to and want to expand the age that we're covering. We're really learning more about the young adult population and how underserved they are, and how stressful that is for families," Traci Schneider said. "The families work so hard to get the kids through school and do therapies and all that kind of stuff when they're growing up, and then all of a sudden you're through high school and it's like, 'Now what do we do? What is their life going to look like now that we don't have that school support, we don't have these things in place that are there for them? Do they go to college, do they need a trade school, do they need specific job training? What are they capable of doing?' With Ben, I want him to do something that he's really fully capable of doing. I think the sky's the limit, you just have to figure out how to get him there. It's so different from a typical kiddo, so it takes a lot more navigating."
Grants going to young adults will focus on education, job training, life skills and social skills, with Ben's Fund working with Delphi Young Adults, Yellow Wood Institute and the Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center to provide those services.
Those who wish to apply for grants or wanting to donate to Ben's Fund can do so at Seahawks.com/BensFund.
In addition to expanding Ben's Fund's reach, this is an important time of year for autism awareness.
"The whole purpose of doing Ben's Fund to begin with was to support this population and these families and these kiddos, but also to hopefully get more awareness and understanding to the community in general," Traci Schneider said. "All of these kids and families live in our community, and sometimes it's not easy to go out in public and be social, so we wanted to get the awareness and understanding factor out there as well."
As part of Autism Awareness Month, the Seahawks will donate 10-percent of sales for every regular priced hat and knit cap sold at Seahawks retail stores to Ben's Fund throughout the month. People can also make in-store donations at checkout. An online charity auction, which can also be found at Seahawks.com/BensFund, will take place from April 3 to April 12, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Ben's Fund. The auction will include a Kam Chancellor autographed replica helmet, a Tyler Lockett autographed replica home jersey and a K.J. Wright autographed football. Throughout the first week of April, the arch lights on the roof of CenturyLink Field will be blue as part of the Light It Up Blue campaign to support autism awareness.
Seahawks players, coaches, and staff took part in the annual 'Prime Time' celebrity waiter event on Thursday, April 20 to benefit Ben's Fund, which provides financial assistance for services related to autism spectrum disorder treatments.