More Local Agencies Join ‘Autism Stands’ in Raising Awareness

| June 11, 2019

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – Venango County’s own Autism Stands group has expanded their awareness campaign again with more official stickers the community may be noticing soon throughout the area.

(Photos courtesy of Autism Stands)

The Autism Stands organization was founded by Brandy Hinojosa in 2013. The group held its first autism walk in April of 2014; however, since then, they have continued in their mission to raise awareness throughout the area.

“When Autism Stands started there was absolutely nothing in this area for autism awareness,” Hinojosa told

Hinojosa, whose daughter is severely autistic and non-verbal, decided that she would take on the issue of local autism awareness, and began the group with that one simple goal. Nevertheless, since that date, her efforts have continued to expand.

It all began with a long conversation with then-Chief of Police in Oil City Robert (Bob) Wenner.

“I just thought it was crucial that the police understand how the bright lights and noise can affect people with autism,” explained Hinojosa.

“Since then, the relationship has been ongoing. We have worked on doing what we can for the community with the police to allow autistic kids to get to know them.”

Autism Stands is also behind the blue ribbons that are hung around Oil City for autism awareness each year in the month of April, as well as the annual autism walk.

Then, in 2017, the organization took things a step further, and with the cooperation of the city, the Oil City Police Department became the first department in the nation to put autism awareness stickers on their vehicles.

“They really broke some barriers when they decided to do that for the autism community,” Hinojosa noted.

And, the contribution didn’t go unnoticed. According to Hinojosa, the organization’s Facebook post announcing the new stickers went viral locally, with over 25,000 views.

Since then, the organization has continued in its mission, getting Franklin Police Department on board with their own version of the autism awareness stickers last year.

One of the unique things about how the organization has orchestrated the sticker campaign is the method in which the sticker designs are chosen.

According to Hinojosa, she had people on the Facebook page vote on what design they preferred, and it turned into a theme. The original stickers, on the Oil City Police vehicles, have a familiar Batman look to them, then the community chose Superman-style stickers for the Franklin Police.

“When we decided to put stickers on the firetrucks, they wanted to continue the superhero theme,” Hinojosa said. “Now the stickers are being custom-made to continue the theme.”

Most recently, Oil City Fire Department vehicles got their own set of stickers, with a Captain America theme, and the city vehicles in Oil City are now sporting Hulk themed autism awareness stickers.

And, there will be more to come.

Hinojosa said Rouseville Fire Department will soon have autism awareness stickers with a Thor theme, and she has begun speaking with Chief Wenner, who is now in Sugarcreek, about choosing a design for stickers for their department, as well.

“They are really all superheroes in my book for helping to promote autism awareness,” Hinojosa said.

“I’m very proud of my city, and others in the area, for the cooperation. They’ve done great things for awareness.”

While awareness is the main focus of Autism Stands, Hinojosa explained the group also supports the people with autism in the region through other programs, helping with life skills classes, and working with a family support group. A special luncheon with police officers is also held to allow them to better understand how people with autism behave and react to things in a public setting. They have also offered free swimming lessons for autistic children, as many people with autism have a tendency to wander and have a fascination with water.

“One of the leading causes of death for autistic kids is drowning,” Hinojosa noted.

Hinojosa is currently working to develop a special car seat training program for autistic children, who sometimes have a tendency to climb out of car seats, while also raising money to be able to supply special seatbelt covers that warn police and first responders that an individual has autism and may resist help.

“We’re just trying to do whatever we can to make a difference,” Hinojosa said. “We’re determined to make a difference and help individuals with autism and their families.”

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