Mike and Alisa Maron belong to an exclusive club.
“It’s a club no one wants to belong to,” said Rutgers alumna Alisa, of the bond she and her husband share with other parents of severely autistic children. “But at least we are all on the same page.”
Members of this club know how to effectively interact with the nonverbal and not flinch when someone has a meltdown. And when they run into expensive barriers to their children’s quality of life, they pool their resources, raise funds and remove them.
That’s what the Marons did 20 years ago when they founded a charity golf event to benefit Douglass Organization for Occupational and Related Educational Services, Inc. (DOORS) – a fundraising initiative created by parents of students attending Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center (DDDC) a unit of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology on the university’s Cook-Douglass campus.
“I not only wanted it for my son but for the other families in the school because we know how hard it is,” said Mike, whose son Greg, 25, was a longtime DDDC student. “This fundraising event answers the call of families who need help.”
The DOORS Golf Challenge, which celebrates its 20th anniversary July 10, has raised half a million dollars to help fill in the gaps at the DDDC as needs arise. Proceeds largely support respite programs – from afterschool outings to a weeklong summer camp and transportation services – for the 65 children and 20 adults served by DDDC.
“Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are often isolated with limited options for community integration and socialization experiences,” said Maria Arnold, director of educational services at DDDC. “We appreciate all that this small, but very committed group accomplishes each year to help finance supplemental services that are invaluable to families.”
An estimated one in 68 children nationally – and one in 41 in New Jersey – are diagnosed with ASD, a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.“Greg is a grown man, with a beard, but we can’t let him cross the street by himself because he doesn’t understand danger,” said Alisa of her son who is nonverbal, epileptic and requires specialized care. After attending DDDC from age 3 to 20, Greg is now enrolled in an adult program through Eden Autism Services and moved into a group home in Robbinsville last year.
While the needs of their son and his classmates inspired the Marons – both Rutgers alumni and employees – to establish the golf outing, they see their efforts as an extension of the community involvement they experienced while dating at Rutgers. The pair graduated with communication degrees – Mike in 1983 and Alisa in 1985. He works for the university as an application developer in the Office of Information Technology in New Brunswick. She is a conference coordinator with Residence Life at Rutgers-New Brunswick.
“Volunteerism is very important at Rutgers and it’s important to us,” said Mike. “You don’t just go to school here. You enrich your life here.”
For years, Mike devoted his lunch hours to planning the event that draws more than 100 participants annually and dozens of corporate backers, including this year’s title sponsor: Microsoft. For a $400 tax-deductible ticket, golfers receive three meals, open bar, gifts, prizes and a round of 18 holes at Cherry Valley Country Club in Princeton, which has hosted the charity for three years.
“I guarantee a professionally run event played at a quality venue,” Mike said. “I gear this toward the player because I’m a player myself.”
For the last 10 years, the Rutgers women’s golf team has partnered with the DOORS Golf Challenge for a Beat the Pro contest, where on one hole, participants try to land their tee shot closer to the hole than members of the Rutgers team.
“Everyone thinks they can beat the girl,” said Alisa.
“But it rarely happens,” Mike adds.
In recent years, he passed on the role of event manager to another DOORS parent, but Mike said he stays connected as a consultant with the charity he calls his second child.
“It was like a second job,” said Alisa of her husband’s commitment to the event. “I joked that this should be the Greg Maron Golf Tournament, because it was so much work.”
For media inquiries, contact Lisa Intrabartola at 848-932-0554 or firstname.lastname@example.org.