Broadway lends Montclair a Star to help raise funds for Autism

Broadway star Stephanie Block is bringing a little glamor to campus for Montclair State University’s 4th annual autism event this week.

Block, a 2013 Tony award nominee, will be joined by a mind illusionist, a comedian and a young performing phenomenon in a benefit to help raise money for families with autistic children.

“[This] cause is very near to my heart,” Block said in a recent interview, explaining that she has family experience with autism. “We have a beautiful niece who is going to be 22 next month and she’s a niece of my husband’s and we adore her.”
Block, who has performed in a number of musicals including “The Boy from Oz” and “Wicked,” gave a little sneak peak at what to expect at the May 4 event, in which she’ll be performing with young musical phenomenon Jody DiPlazza.

“I will share the stage with Jody DiPlazza who I believe has performed a couple of times at this event,” she said. “She will be at the piano and she and I will be singing “For Good” from “Wicked” and I was asked to sing “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” [as well] and then a wonderful song called “We Can Be Kind,” which I find to be very appropriate at the fundraisers and benefits of this type.”

Larry Weiner, a professor in the School of Communication and Media, has been a driving force in organizing and publicizing the event.

“I have been living with autism all my life, “ Weiner said. “My son, my 26-year-old son, he was diagnosed when he was about three. So we have been dealing with Autism New Jersey for two decades now.”

Autism New Jersey is a helpful resource for many families living in this state to seek help and services for their autistic children.

“What they do best is that they provide resources for families who have questions about the diseases, questions about therapies, [they] help you [learn more about] getting help with various types of social training, motor skill training, and even legal advice to set up guardianships, wills, and all of that stuff,” Weiner said. “They are advocates for the autistic community. They go to legislatures and teachers and parents and emergency service workers to help educate.”

Professor Weiner and Montclair State University’s own chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSSA) students will be in charge of developing, producing and hosting this event as they have been in the past.

As he straightens and sorts papers on his desk, Weiner says, “The students get a couple of benefits out of it. They learn how to do event planning, they also get involved in a cause that’s really critically important today, and it gets them involved in their community.”

Following tradition from last year’s event, Fairleigh Dickenson University will once again be cohosting this event with Montclair State University students.

When asked how the idea for having this event for autism came to be, Weiner said, “The College of the Arts has always supported autism in some way. Then there’s all these organizations [such as], Autism Speaks and it just occurred to me, you know April is Autism Awareness month and everyone, even the students are like, ‘Let’s do something for autism’ and nobody was doing anything for Autism New Jersey.”

He looks up and a grin begins to appear on his face as he continues, “Even the people at Autism New Jersey will tell you that they get lost because Autism Speaks is such a big loud organization that they get buried by the name. So I said, ‘You know it’s time to do something for the state.’ We are in New Jersey we should do something for Autism New Jersey.”

Raising a substantial amount of money for Autism New Jersey is a top priority behind this event.

“I hope this year that we can hit the $3,000 mark,” Weiner said. “The first year we raised $1,200. Then the second year I think we raised $2,000. And last year we raised $2,400, so it keeps going upward. I am optimistic we will have $3,000 [this year].”

The event is from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at MSU’s Memorial Auditorium on Monday May 4th.

Montclair State | New Jersey

Paula Roa

Paula Roa is a Clinical Psychology Major at Montclair State University.