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Kicking off Keagan’s Cause: Concert will raise money for new autism awareness nonprofit

Chad (from left), Keagan and Jami Cummings. (Special to The Globe)1 / 5
Chris Hawkey performs in Minneapolis in this undated photo. (Special to the Globe)2 / 5
Chris Hawkey. (Special to the Globe)3 / 5
Tim Montana. (Special to The Globe)4 / 5
5 / 5

WORTHINGTON — Next Saturday’s concert at the Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center will feature national country artists Tim Montana and Chris Hawkey.

Montana, who spent much of last year touring with Kid Rock and ZZ Top, and Hawkey, Minneapolis country artist and host of the Power Trip Morning Show, are effectively doing the show for free. That’s because the concert’s proceeds will go toward a new nonprofit called Keagan’s Cause, which seeks to boost autism awareness and provide assistance to families within a 60-mile radius of Worthington.

The nonprofit is named after 6-year-old Keagan Cummings, the son of Chad and Jami Cummings, who was diagnosed with autism before his second birthday.

It was actually Hawkey, a friend of Chad Cummings and a fellow radio man, who encouraged Cummings to start the nonprofit, urging him to raise money for something he was passionate about.

With the help of local lawyer Bill Wetering, Cummings set up the 501c3 organization and recruited local community members to create a board of directors. But Cummings still needed a fundraiser to kick things off.

At last year’s Beach Bash, at which Hawkey has become a regular performer, he pulled Cummings into his bus and handed him his phone. On the other line was Montana, who told Cummings he was more than happy to play a show for a good cause.

“He told me, ‘you pick the date, we’ll make it happen.’” Cummings said.

Cummings knows well that caring for a child or adult with autism can be expensive. Service dogs, which can provide affection and decrease anxiety, cost thousands of dollars. Mobile apps that assist with nonverbal autism, a form of autism Keagan has that makes it difficult to communicate, cost hundreds of dollars. That’s an area where the nonprofit could provide financial support.

Another issue for local people with autism is there are certain occupational, physical and speech therapies that, as of now, simply aren’t available in the Worthington area.

“Can we get enough funds to bring some of those to have session days here and schedule appointments here or do we fund travel? That’s the kind of stuff we’re looking at,” Cummings said.

Cummings said the nonprofit could also help provide respite care to parents of autistic adults.

“We’re looking for people who are willing to do in-home care for those adults who can’t be left alone so their family can just breathe and have a night out,” Cummings said.

Then there’s spreading awareness. Cummings cited a stat from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that says one in 68 kids are born on the spectrum in the U.S. He noted many people don’t understand just how common autism is, and perhaps more importantly, don’t understand just how diverse the autism spectrum is.

“They say once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person, because the spectrum is so wide and everyone falls on a different spot,” Cummings said.

Cummings said many kids aren’t diagnosed with autism until they are teenagers. Helping everyone — including kids, parents and teachers — understand more about the the condition, Cummings added, will help them empathize with those with autism.

“We want them to feel normal, we want them to feel welcome, we want them to feel open enough to express themselves,” Cummings said.

The Keagan’s Cause logo, designed locally by Behrends Signworks, portrays what looks like Captain America’s iconic shield surrounding a Lego piece. Cummings has already sold several Keagan’s Cause-branded shirts to local community members.

“We wanted to do the shirts and hoodies so there’s a bunch of people wearing them to the show,” Cummings said.

Memorial Auditorium will open its doors at 6 p.m. Saturday for the concert. Montana will kick things off at 7:30 p.m., and Hawkey will follow at 9 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or by calling 376-9101.

A silent auction will take place as well and feature iPads, Keagan’s Cause apparel, YMCA memberships and more.

The concert is just the beginning in a large effort to promote autism awareness. Keagan’s Cause will host an autism walk in April (National Autism Awareness Month), and more events will follow.

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