Nearly 200 golfers hit the course at Sandpiper in Harrison Mills Monday (Aug. 9) for the 13th annual Saccomaniacs Agriculture for Autism golf tournament.
Another 50 fishermen went out on the nearby Harrison River for a fishing derby, all of them helping to raise money for the Pacific Autism Family Network (PAFN).
It’s a cause near and dear to the heart of tournament founder Steve Saccomano, who greeted each person who arrived at the first tee box.
“My wife, Antoinette, and I have four children, one of which is on the spectrum,” Saccomano said. “He was diagnosed when he was three and when we got the diagnosis back then, we didn’t know where to go, who to turn to or what services were available.
“We pretty much had to source everything for ourselves, and through the years we got our son from point A to point B, where he’s 24 now and doing very well. So, we decided that it was time to give back to the autism community and help to provide those services to other families going forward.”
PAFN started with a hub in Richmond, founded by Wendy and Sergio Cocchia. When Saccomano started the golf tournament in 2008, money went to the PAFN ‘Lifestyle Classroom’ to help young adults on the spectrum develop life skills.
PAFN expanded to Prince George and Kelowna and in December of 2019 a centre opened at Five Corners in downtown Chilliwack (46151 Yale Road).
“COVID came in March and kind of shut us down just as we were starting to gain momentum, but we hired a great manager in Stephanie Betsch to run our programs,” Saccomano said. “We had to adjust our approach after COVID came, but we’re almost up and running again with full programs.
“We provide hearing specialists, speech pathology, behavioural interventionists, peer groups, youth employment. There are a variety of services for people who have loved ones on the spectrum.”
Last year’s tournament raised north of $120,000 to fund those services, despite the pandemic, and Sandpiper was buzzing with volunteers, golfers and fisherman ready to make this year’s even even more successful.
“One thing I wanted to do was combine my three passions — golf, the autism community and agriculture industry — and bring them together,” Saccomano said. “I was born and raised on a dairy farm and I’ve been involved with agriculture all of my professional life, so I decided to take the farmers and ag community, put them on the golf course with the autism community and make an event to support what we’re trying to do.
“The response has been amazing. We’re 13 years running and we have golfers and donors who come back every year. They understand the need for what we’re trying to do and they carry the passion that we have. The stories that we get every year are absolutely amazing.”