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Car lease winner opts for autism donation

Roanoke Times - 10/23/2017

April Burch of Stafford County was shocked when she won a three-year lease on a new Nissan Rogue in a contest organized by B101.5 radio and Pohanka Nissan in Fredericksburg.

But what she did with the grand prize stunned just about everyone else.

Instead of accepting the SUV, Burch requested that a donation be made to her son's autism program at Conway Elementary School.

"My reaction was, 'Wow.' I was incredibly impressed with her generosity," said Tim Pohanka, managing partner of Pohanka Nissan. "I mean, if you won a car, would you do this?"

Burch, her husband Morgan and sons Hunter, 8, and Daniel, 6, have lived in Stafford for six years. Burch said Hunter, a big fan of B101.5, hounded her every day after the monthlong contest began on the radio, urging her to call in and try to qualify to compete.

In the third week, their efforts finally paid off. And on Saturday, Oct. 14, Burch and about 60 other qualifiers gathered at Pohanka Nissan, where a reverse elimination round began.

Those whose names were drawn were eliminated from the contest. Burch survived, becoming one of 10 finalists.

"I was so nervous at this point," Burch said. She described how excited her husband and boys were, cheering her on. "I truly felt like I was going to faint!"

Ten key fobs were placed in a bag. Each of the finalists were instructed to reach in, choose one, and push the alarm button. Burch was the fifth finalist to reach into the bag. When she pushed the button, the alarm on the grand prize Nissan Rogue began to sound.

"It took me a couple seconds to understand that I had won," Burch said. "Everybody was yelling and screaming. My boys were jumping up and down, hollering and clapping. It was a whirlwind!"

The family was sent on a celebratory test drive, and they were impressed with the fully loaded SUV, which is Nissan's top seller in the U.S.

"It was an amazing car! We loved it. It was definitely a great car to win," Burch said. "The boys were so excited. They thought this was going to be our car!"

But Burch and her husband had already agreed on what they would do if she did actually win.

When they got back to the dealership, they asked Pohanka if he would consider making a cash donation to the Autism and Developmental Delay program at Conway Elementary School if they opted out of taking the car. Their suggested amount was $500.

After his initial surprise, Pohanka said his immediate thought was, "$500? That's all? What can I do to make this a bigger deal? How can I make it better? For someone this passionate and dedicated to a cause, we just wanted to get on board."

Pohanka presented a check for $5,000 to Conway in a ceremony at the southern Stafford school Friday morning. He announced an additional donation of $5,000 to the Center for Autism Research at Virginia Commonwealth University.

"This is just incredible, a big shining blessing," Burch said. "This donation will help this program for years to come. I can't tell you what this means for those teachers and their hard work with those kids."

She explained that although the autism program is well funded by Stafford County, some extra activities are not covered, and the teachers have often resorted to purchasing supplies with their own money, or fundraising to cover costs.

"These programs are monumental for my son's growth," Burch said. "It may not sound like it's that important to you, but to me, the mom of an autistic child, this is a humongous deal."

For example, she described a cooking activity the teachers organize every Friday during which the students in the program make a meal. Children with autism won't eat some foods, like mashed potatoes or toast, because of their texture.

In a social setting and with professional guidance, the students are not only more likely to try new foods, but also to develop social skills through placing an order, asking questions, and working with a team.

Burch's son, Daniel, started the prekindergarten program at the age of 3.

"He wasn't potty-trained, he was non-verbal and only used grunts and pictures to tell what he wanted," his mother said. "He had sensory overload issues, many food issues and problems understanding danger."

Three years later, Daniel has learned how to do these things and deal with these issues, as each child in the program does to their own degree and with their own individual style.

"Little by little this program has changed my son to where he is able to be out in public and have a conversation, to use the bathroom and interact safely with his environment," Burch said. "We're just so grateful for Tim's generosity and willingness to help kids like Daniel."

"If she hadn't taken this action, we wouldn't be doing this," Pohanka said. "It's people like April Burch who change the world."


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