Isabella Williams, the owner of TJ’s Antiques & Collectibles in Smyrna, is shifting to the digital sphere to host her annual fundraiser for Autism Awareness Month in April.
Williams has been raising money for that cause over the past few years, this being her fourth fundraiser. She said that the timing of last year’s quarantine made fundraising particularly difficult.
The lower participation numbers from her Breast Cancer Awareness Month fundraiser last October pushed her to make the transition to virtual fundraising this year.
“I didn’t get a lot of participation. I guess because people were still scared with COVID,” said Williams, “This year, I thought, ‘Well I’m just going to put the baskets online.’ ”
This year’s fundraiser will operate as a raffle. Participants can make as many $5 donations as they would like to enter a drawing. The prizes are two gift baskets.
Williams said the baskets are huge and contain trinkets, collectible Hot Wheels cars, flip-flops shaped like fish and other items. Each basket is worth about $500, she said.
“They’re full from the bottom to the top. There’re no fillers. It’s just got a little bit of everything,” she said.
Both baskets are featured on the store’s Facebook page and are on display inside the store. She plans to donate the proceeds from the fundraiser to the Autism Foundation of Tennessee in Nashville.
All of the donors’ names will be entered into a virtual program that will randomly select two winners, who will be announced on the store’s Facebook page on Thursday, April 29.
Autism fundraising became important to Williams after meeting her friend Betty Dalson Gibson’s son for the first time.
“When I first met Andrew, he wouldn’t even look at you. He’d just kind of look at the floor, and he wouldn’t talk to you or nothing,” said Williams, “The last couple of years he’s been really coming out of his shell.”
Andrew Dalson, 20, attends Centerstone, or “college” as he likes to call it, in Nashville. Centerstone is a mental health facility that has given him the opportunity to socialize and make new friends in his age group.
Williams, who has known the family for about eight years, said that Dalson often comes into her shop on the weekends to share his excitement. She describes him as “a breath of fresh air,” and wrote in an email that he is “all smiles all the time.”
Williams said that she has some customers with children who are on the autism spectrum. It’s a topic that Williams doesn’t believe is discussed very often.
“I just want to make more people aware, and aware that even though they have autism, they can still live normal lives,” said Williams.