QUEENSBURY — Blue seemed to be the only color in sight Saturday night during the first Blue Tie Ball for Autism Awareness at The Great Escape Lodge. Women wore dresses, skirts, and rompers in shades of cobalt, navy, and sapphire. Men sported suits, button-up shirts, and polo T-shirts — all in hues of blue.
The driving force behind this event was Andrew Paolano, 20-year-old SUNY-Adirondack student, who has a form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome.
“The goal for this event is for people to be more educated, and to raise money for research as well as for local groups such as Upstate NY Autism Alliance,” Paolano said. “I’ve always wanted to do some event to raise awareness.”
Since Paolano is an employee of the Lodge, he approached his bosses about having an event. “This was his brainchild,” one of Paolano’s bosses, Jeff Bartone, said. “He wants to give back; it’s heartwarming.”
Paolano also contacted the Autism Society in Albany, and they put him in touch with the Upstate NY Autism Alliance and its founder, Kristin Howarth.
“Andrew is a wonderful young man who’s an amazing self advocate,” Howarth said.
When the doors of the Mohican Ballroom, opened guests filtered inside. The snowy tones of the tables, clothed in white tablecloths, and chairs, covered in white silky material with each back delicately wrapped in a bow of white mesh, made the cerulean décor stand out.
Tall glass vases, full of blue water, bouquets of thin, white branches with shimmery puzzle pieces — the symbol of Autism awareness — dangling down, served as the centerpieces. Each place setting consisted of a small tulle pouch of colored mints to be consumed at the close of the four-course meal.
Even the band, George Fletcher’s Foldin’ Money, kept to the theme of the evening by playing blues music.
Colleen Cardone, a 19-year-old with autism, and her mother, Cathleen Cardone found their seats at table six.
“The best way I can describe autism is that there is a circuit everyone can plug into,” Cardone said. “I can’t make connections like normal people. I’m like that plug over there, only able to make a few.”
Cardone was diagnosed at age 2. “Back then there was no information and no support groups,” Cardone’s mother said. “I did a lot of research.”
The support of her mother has made all the difference to Cardone. “My mom has been a constant vigil in my life,” Cardone said. “She always pushed and tried to help me be more independent.”
Silence spread through the room when Paolano stepped up to the microphone to officially welcome the crowd. He spoke of his plans to attend SUNY Albany to pursue his dream of becoming a meteorologist, and he encouraged everyone to like his weather Facebook page: Andrew Paolano’s Northeast Weather Forecasting. “I’ve been a weather watcher since I was a kid,” Paolano said. “It’s my passion.”
At the end of his speech Paolano thanked everyone for coming out to support the cause.
Applause echoed across the room, members of the crowd rose from their seats, and Paolano received a standing ovation.