Posted Online: July 07, 2013, 12:28 am

Royal recognition honors teacher's autism work

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

Photo:
Keri Griffith, 37, Moline, an early childhood special education teacher at Wells Elementary School in East Moline, and one of her students, Elliott Dyer share a laugh and smile. Mrs. Griffith recently was named as the first queen of a Royal Ball Celebration and 5K run. Elliott's mother, Crystal Dyer, had nominated Mrs. Griffith for the honor.
Photo:
Keri, Jarrid and Addieson Griffith had a great time at a recent Royal Ball for All celebration. Mrs. Griffith was named as the first Royal Ball queen, and Addieson won 10 box seat tickets for the River Bandits during the June 21 celebration, which was followed by a 5K Royal Ball Run fundraiser. The 2nd annual event raised $10,000 for Augustana College's speech and therapy department. Mrs. Griffith was given a certificate, three-month membership to Massage Envy, and a $500 scholarship she plans to use to buy an iPad for her classroom to help her students improve communication skills.
MILAN -- Teachers typically don't get the kind of royal recognition an early childhood special-education instructor said she recently received.

Keri Griffith, 37, of Moline, who works at Wells Elementary School in East Moline with children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities such as autism, Down Syndrome and other developmental delays, was crowned the first "Royal Ball Queen'' during a June 21-22 autism fundraiser.

The event included the royalty-themed ball, followed the next morning by a 5K run, and a quarter-mile "Prince and Princess Fun Run."

"I don't think teachers get recognized enough for all the hard work they do, so I was surprised, honored and grateful for this," Mrs. Griffith said. "As a teacher, you work with children every day and hope you make a difference in their lives, but don't always hear if you did. To hear the thanks they gave me is something I will never forget."

Mrs. Griffith was honored during the 2nd annual "Royal Ball for All" celebration at the Milan Community Center. She was given a certificate by the Mike Hutchins Memorial Fund, recognizing her for "outstanding generosity, support and dedication to children and families affected by autism."

The fund is named in memory of Mike Hutchins, a teacher, coach, school administrator and counselor, who died unexpectedly from cancer three months after the first "Royal Ball" event a year ago, at which he had served as a volunteer.

Mrs. Griffith also was given a bouquet of flowers, a three-month membership to Massage Envy, and a $500 scholarship she plans to use to buy an iPad for her classroom that her students can use to improve communication skills.

They didn't have a crown or sash for her, but her daughter, Addieson, 7, had one on as part of a costume that won her 10 box-seat tickets for the River Bandits, for being one of the top-dressed princesses at the ball.

Mrs. Griffith also felt rewarded by watching children having fun at the celebration. "Children with autism don't look any different than other children," she said. "They look like a typical child, and should be treated the same. Watching them at play is priceless."

A parent of an autistic child nominated Mrs. Griffith for the honor.

"Three years ago, my son was diagnosed with autism, and we were concerned about what his future might bring," Crystal Dyer wrote in her nomination letter.

Soon after her son Elliott's diagnosis, he was introduced to Mrs. Griffith at Wells Elementary, Ms. Dyer's letter continued.

"Mrs. Griffith and her staff gave our family hope, and we saw so much progress with Elliott under her tender, nurturing care," Ms. Dyer wrote. "She has a gift with children on the spectrum, and not only has she helped him through these early years of learning, she has helped my husband and I become better parents as well.

"Keri will always be royalty to us, and will always reign as a queen in our lives," Ms. Dyer added.

At the June 22 Royal Ball run, "I also had three families come up to me and said they were proud I had won and that I deserved it," Mrs. Griffith said. "All the support shown by people who came to the event was appreciated."

Event organizers provided support in the form of a $10,000 donation to the speech and language therapy department at Augustana College in Rock Island. The money will help cover costs for autistic children to receive speech and language therapy and provide a training program for parents to provide home therapy.

Last year, the Royal Ball Run donated $7,500 to the Quad Cities Autism Center.

Other highlights of this year's event, according to a news release and royalballrun.com:

--Volunteer and run participant Briana Flynn, of Bettendorf, raised more than $3,000 by taking pledges for every mile she ran during April's Boston Marathon;

--Arrowhead Ranch youth received complementary 5K run registrations in exchange for volunteering to work at the event.

--It was the ninth event of a "Live Uncommon" 13-part race series.Live Uncommon is a registered 501(c)3 organization, co-founded by Michelle Russell, who serves as its president. Visit liveuncommon.org for information.

Part of the Royal Ball's mission is to raise awareness of programs and services in the Quad-Cities area and recognize individuals making a difference locally, according to the news release.

Mrs. Griffith truly treasured the royal recognition of being its first queen.