In a private room at Sage restaurant in Chesterton, Indiana was a large finely set dining table. Around this table sat sixteen people. Some were strangers, some were family and friends, but all were there for one purpose: this was Sage’s 2nd Annual Autism Dinner. All in attendance were there to support and spread autism awareness, eat some excellent food, and make a memory.
The dinner was hosted by Chef Joseph Gaal himself, and he pulled out all the stops to make sure that the guests had not only a wonderful meal, but a wonderful overall experience.
“It started with a customer who has been coming here since we opened,” said Chef Gaal. “We decided to work with Diane because it’s a passion thing. We have the passion for the restaurant, and she has such a passion for helping those who have autism. When you see someone that passionate, you can’t help but be touched.”
Everyone was well-dressed and in good spirits as they settled into their chairs. Before the meal started, the guest of honor stood and beamed at the group. Diane Kellenburger is a 65-year-old grandmother and marathon runner. She has run fifteen marathons so far, and she plans on running the Chicago Marathon this year as well as the Marine Corps Marathon after that, bringing the total to seventeen marathons.
Kellenburger has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Her twelve-year-old grandson, Ryan, is autistic. She participates in a program called Run for Autism, which is an extension of the Organization for Autism Research (OAR). The OAR is a nonprofit organization that helps fund research, and provide support and resources to families and individuals who struggle with autism. What Kellenburger does is get people to sponsor her while she runs. The more people that sponsor her, the more money goes to the OAR.
“He’s what fuels my passion for this cause,” Kellenburger said of her grandson. “When I first started running for autism four years ago, the statistic was one in 150 children are on the autism spectrum. In March of 2012, the CDC came out with a new statistic that it’s now one in 88 children. So that’s pretty mind staggering.”
No one knows why autism is becoming more and more frequent, and no cure has been found yet. Autism is a neurological disorder that impacts an individual's communication and social skills. It is more prevalent in boys than in girls (one in 264 for girls and one in 50 for boys), and often diagnosed at a young age. Autism can be found across the world in all cultures and social realms. Kellenburger approached Chef Gaal to see if there was something that they could do to raise awareness for autism. This dinner was the result.
“I’m here with a lot of good friends, and we’re raising money tonight,” said Kellenburger. “Autism doesn't get much government funding. Families are really struggling with services, with school systems. School systems are having a problem being able to educate these children. We just need a lot of resources for autism research and for educators knowing how to teach these children. This [dinner] raises awareness and brings in the needed funds.”
The menu for the evening started off with a beet salad with gorgonzola, fresh micro greens, candied walnuts and a balsamic glaze; then a seared scallop placed on top of curried brussels sprouts; followed by house-made butternut squash ravioli lightly topped with a lovely cream sauce; after that came a creamy mushroom risotto boasting tender slices of New York strip steak; then a surprise dish was presented: Sage’s house-made Italian sausage and sauteed peppers, topped with their signature red sauce (also house-made). For dessert, guests had a choice of a decadent chocolate orange martini or a tastefully tart Limoncello and cream, both of which were appealingly served in slender champagne flutes. Speaking of drinks, each course was painstakingly paired with a different wine to accentuate the flavors in each bite.
Chef Gaal sat at the head of the table and to everyone’s delight, joined in the meal. He spoke some touching words to the group toward the end of the evening about how this cause is close to his heart.
“When we first opened, a lot of people came in and ask you to give and give,” said Chef Gaal. “We do all we can in the community, but you have to chose. And we chose to work with Diane because of her passion. And I see it everyday. I have a family member who does not have the best quality of life, so I understand this. I know how hard it is. We have been blessed to have him for ten years when we didn’t think he’d make it ten weeks.”
The Autism Dinner was a success. Why wouldn’t it be? You get to eat well while helping others. 100% of the proceeds from the dinner go to the Organization for Autism Research. Let’s see if next year’s dinner can top this one!
To find out more about Run For Autism check out their Facebook page!