Personality: Donald S. ‘Don’ Richards
Spotlight on vice chair of Autism Society of Central Virginia
4/29/2021, 6 p.m.
After decades in broadcasting, Donald S. “Don” Richards is gearing up for a new chapter of community advocacy.
The Michigan native recently retired from a 45-year career in local radio and television, and is now committing more time than ever to his role as vice chair of the Autism Society of Central Virginia. He took on the role in October and after a year, will ascend to president of the organization’s board.
“It was an honor to be asked,” says Mr. Richards when asked why he took the volunteer position. He said it is also his way “to show love and respect for my 9-year-old grandson, Case Pallister, who is autistic.”
His profile is typical of members of the organization, which was founded in the late 1980s by a group of parents of autistic children to provide a support network.
“Everyone on the staff and the board has been directly impacted by a family member, friend or co-worker with autism,” Mr. Richards says.
He first joined ASCV in 2019 after attending several of the organization’s events with his daughter and grandson.
As vice chair, Mr. Richards leads the board’s programming committee.
“I’m by no means an expert in autism,” Mr. Richards says. “I have a lot of personal learning to do about the impact of autism on individuals and families. And it’s my responsibility to learn as much as I can.”
Mr. Richards sees the board’s chief goal right now as raising awareness of ASCV’s various programs, which includes social and recreational activities, family and caregiver support groups, educational workshops and more, as well as its membership benefits.
In the long term, Mr. Richards is looking to increase ASCV’s reach and impact within Central Virginia’s underserved communities.
To meet these goals, ASCV needs to raise both public awareness and funds to support staff and programs. So far, the group has held a number of virtual events that have brought new interest from those without connection to autism. ASCV is hosting its first golf tournament on Monday and an upcoming virtual walk.
“It’s early in our fiscal year, so we’re just getting started. But we’re pleased so far with the new people who are participating in events that were new to us,” Mr. Richards says. “By doing that, we’re going to raise more funds, we hope, during the entire year.”
ASCV tripled its virtual programming and critical support for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked about assuming leadership of ASCV during such a challenging time, Mr. Richards is optimistic.
“I see a tremendous opportunity going in to make more people aware of the services we offer,” Mr. Richards says. “It may be tumultuous, but I feel like it’s an opportunity at the same time for us to get our message out.”
Meet an advocate for those with autism and their families and this week's Personality, Donald S. "Don" Richards:
No. 1 volunteer position: Vice chair, Autism Society of Central Virginia, or ASCV.
Date and place of birth: Nov. 1 in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Where I live now: Western Henrico County.
Education: Attended St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Occupation: Recently retired after 45 years in local radio and television, including 12 years as vice president and general manager of NBC12.
Family: Wife, Marsha; daughters, Ashly and Jessa; five grandchildren; and one angry chihuahua, Gomez.
Mission of Autism Society of Central Virginia: To improve the lives of all Central Virginians affected by autism through education, advocacy, services and support.
When and why ASCV was founded: ASCV was formed locally in the late 1980s by a group of parents of autistic children to provide a network of support for those diagnosed, their families and caregivers.
Autism is: A complex and lifelong developmental disability that impacts an individual’s social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation. The impact varies widely from person to person.
ASCV is important for all communities because: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 54 children in the United States is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. The impact extends to their families and caregivers. It is present in all ethnic and socioeconomic populations. The ASCV exists to provide services to all impacted populations.
When elected board vice chair: October 2020.
Why I accepted position: It was an honor to be asked, and it is my way to show love and respect for my 9-year-old grandson, Case Pallister, who is autistic.
Length of term: One year as vice chair to prepare for a term as chair of the ASCV board.
No. 1 goal for the board: Increase awareness of ASCV services and membership benefits. In the long term, to increase the reach and impact to underserved communities within Central Virginia.
Strategy for achieving goals: Raise public awareness and, of course, the necessary funds to support the excellent ASCV staff and the valuable programs they have developed.
How ASCV is helping during COVID-19: ASCV tripled the virtual programming and critical support offered to ASD individuals and their families during the pandemic. There were more than 5,500 local participants in 2020. Scholar- ships were offered to help with financial pressures brought on by the pandemic.
How ASCV assists families and caregivers: ASCV offers social and recreational activi- ties, information and referral services, family and caregiver support groups, educational workshops, advocacy initiatives and scholarships, plus compassionate understanding. Everyone on the staff and the board has been directly impacted by a family member, friend or co-worker with autism.
Racial equity and ASCV: The average child diagnosis in the United States is 4 years old. But minority groups tend to be diagnosed at a later age. ASCV is increasing outreach and early awareness efforts to affected minority communities through networking workshops and direct advertising.
How to access ASCV for assistance: Online at www.ascv.org; email firstname.lastname@example.org; the ASCV Facebook page; or by phone, (804) 257-0192.
How I start the day: I have coffee at home, followed by a drive to a coffee shop for more coffee while I work on my project du jour. Then off to the gym for a workout.
Three words that best describe me: Casual, competitive and restless.
Best late-night snack: I’m truly boring. Late night for me is 10 p.m. and I like Wegmans Organic Fruit snacks.
How I unwind: Racquetball, golf, driveway hoops, experi- menting with guitar tunings and sipping a beverage on my screened porch listening to music.
What I have learned about myself during the pandemic: I have confirmed that I am terrible at hunkering down and staying put.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I surprised myself when I discovered I enjoyed public speaking. Who knew?
Quote that I am most inspired by: “Treat others as you wish to be treated.”
At the top of my “to-do” list: Help plan and attend my daughter Jessa’s “wedding in the woods” in late May.
Best thing my parents ever taught me: My mom instilled enjoyment in reading and music lessons. My dad encouraged us in our sports dreams.
Person who influenced me the most: Marsha, my wife of 47 years. When she reads this, she will ask me for specifics.
Book that influenced me the most: “Call of the Wild” by Jack London. It inspired my imagination and interest in the frontier West.
Next goal: To resume our destination travel. I have really missed it.