Essentially, a child can function within society when they’re able to perform simple tasks like tying their shoes and putting things away. However, for children with autism, these tasks can be extremely difficult or even impossible. Being able to reach more kids and allow them to live within the mainstream is what inspired local attorney, Garret Sutton, to come up with the idea for the Sierra Kids Foundation.

He knew Joanne Ryan, whose son had entered the University of Nevada, Reno Early Childhood Autism Program at the age of five and had learned many valuable skills that he might not have learned if not for the dedication of his tutors. Garrett was inspired and touched by the work Dr. Ghezzi’s grad students were able to accomplish. Together, Garrett and Joanne approached Dr. Ghezzi and asked how they could help offer scholarships that would enable more children to stay in the program for the entire two years.

“The program is not paid for by the school district or by insurance and was cost prohibitive,” Dr. Ghezzi explained. All three understood that there was a great need to raise scholarships, as cost was generally a limiting factor in the treatment process for some children. Shortly thereafter, in a chance meeting in the parking lot of Cost Plus World Market, Dr. Ghezzi and Garret coined the name Sierra Kids Foundation.

Together, along with Joanne, they came up with the idea of the Wild West Shootout, an annual high school basketball tournament, which is the primary source of funding for the scholarship program. As both the Sierra Kids Foundation and the Wild West Tournament continue to grow, the foundation strives to reach more and more autistic children in Northern Nevada.

Sutton, Ryan and Dr. Ghezzi now sit on the Board of Directors, along with current president Dr. Tomas Hinojosa, Herb Santos, Jr., Mitch Wood, Stasi Taylor and Bryan Samudio.

Success and Goals
Funds for the program pay the undergraduate and graduate tutors who dedicate their skills, expertise and training to the children and families in the UNR program through a personal, in-depth regiment. The money raised by the Sierra Kids Foundation goes back to the Early Childhood Autism Program by providing scholarships to pay for the recommended two full years in the program. The Sierra Kids Foundation makes the program more widely accessible to our Truckee Meadows Community.

“Like everything else, early detection is the key,” Dr. Ghezzi said. When children come into the program at the age of two and stay in for two years, they have an excellent chance of being fully able to participate in the regular classroom environment.Allowing them to successfully move through the educational system, and eventually living a productive and successful life as an adult.

Written by Carmen Thomas