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Donations making a difference in fundraiser
CHOA seeks machine that can detect early autism
The Cumming Kiwanis Club is among those that have made donations toward Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth’s efforts to raise money for a machine that could help determine early autism. Here, club president Wes Dorsey is joined by Dani Powell and Beth Buursema with Children’s Healthcare and Mike Burns, club member. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

Want to help?

Businesses or individuals interested in giving to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth autism detection project, should go to For more information, contact Beth Buursema at (404) 785-7691.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth recently got a big boost towards a machine that could help determine early autism in children.

Since early spring, the health care facility on Peachtree Parkway has been working to raise $250,000 that would fund one of several prototypes of the device developed by Dr. Ami Klin, director of the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, and his research team.

The device uses cameras that focus on a child’s eyes. Short videos and images are shown to the child, and when his eyes move, the camera can tell what part of the scene the child is watching.

Most children focus on people’s eyes and faces, but according to the Marcus Autism Center infants at risk for autism tend to focus on objects and movements more than typical infants.

Beth Buursema, manager of community outreach at the local Children’s Healthcare facility, said about $140,000 has been raised for the project so far.

The facility will be able to provide the machine’s screenings at no charge to the public since some funding for the project is coming from Federal Drug Administration grant money.

According to Buursema, the project has been well-supported by local businesses and individuals.

“We have been very fortunate to have the support of business like Citizens Bank of Forsyth County, Horizon Christian Academy, Tam’s Backstage Restuarant, Cumming Kiwanis Club and the Alpharetta Athletic Club swim team,” she said.

Most recently, Tommy and Chantal Bagwell, owners of American Proteins in north Forsyth, offered a matching gift.

“They have pledged to match up to $75,000 of the community’s donations towards the eye-tracking unit,” Buursema said. “If we raise another $75,000 within our community by the end of the year, that would be matched and we would have enough money to cover the machine.”

If the fundraising goal is met, the machine would be installed in early 2014, with its services available to families by sometime that spring.

Buursema said she and other Children’s leaders have been overwhelmed by the Bagwells’ offer.

“We will never be able to thank the Bagwell Family Foundation and Tommy and Chantal Bagwell properly for their generosity,” she said.

The Bagwells said the project falls perfectly in line with the types of community-service endeavors they enjoy supporting.

“Two key components of our family foundation have always been to help people learn to help themselves and children’s issues,” Tommy Bagwell said. “This project will certainly help families get the help they need when they find out they have a child diagnosed with autism.”

Chantal Bagwell added that it was important for the couple to help.

“When CHOA approached us with the idea of donating money, we decided to take it one step further by making our donation a match,” she said. “We feel this will create more awareness for the autism project and will help our community and CHOA raise the additional funding needed.”

Buursema said no gift is too small.

“We’ve had many large donations from individuals and members of Children’s Forsyth Community Board, as well as donations from kids holding lemonade stands and dance contests to raise funds,” she said. “So matter the size of your donation, you can make a difference.”