Autism Alliance of Michigan hosts 5th annual "Michigan Shines for Autism Gala," brings light to exemplary employment programs

Retired Walgreens executive and disabilities advocate Randy Lewis to keynote event

DETROIT, April 7, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The fifth annual "Michigan Shines for Autism Gala," presented by DTE Foundation, will raise critical awareness and over $550,000 to support the work and mission of non-profit Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM). The event, held Saturday, April 16th at DTE Energy's (NYSE: DTE) corporate headquarters in downtown Detroit, will focus on the topic of employment.

The evening starts with a cocktail reception, raffle and auction alongside event co-chairs James Nicholson, PVS Chemicals and David Meador, DTE Energy. A formal program emceed by WJR host Paul W. Smith follows dinner and includes a lineup of distinguished speakers. Additionally, both individuals and companies will be recognized for their contribution to improving the lives of Michigan residents and families affected by autism.

Randy Lewis, retired Walgreen's executive and disabilities advocate, will keynote the event, showcasing Walgreen's model of employment for adults with disabilities to help Michigan employers better understand the benefits of recruiting this population into the workforce.

Adults with autism face a challenge no other population faces – a 90 percent unemployment rate – higher than rates for individuals with other developmental disabilities. Having a job is a crucial first step towards improved quality of life, social inclusion, friendships and independence.

Business and community leaders, including the "Women for Autism" host committee -- Detroit's First Lady Lori Maher Duggan; Julie Calley, chairwoman of the Michigan Community Service Commission; Cindy Pasky, president and CEO, Strategic Staffing Solutions; Andra Rush, CEO, American Manufacturing Systems; Sandy Pierce, First Merit Vice Chair; Beth Chappell, president and CEO, Detroit Economic Club; Monique Marks, president and CEO, Franklin-Wright Settlements; and Nedda Shayota vice president, Sigma Associates Inc. -- are among those supporting this cause. Additionally, multiple legislatures and state department leadership will be in attendance.

Over the last five years, the gala's celebratory themes related to passage of insurance legislation and increasing access to essential therapies for young children.

"We have seen such significant reform in the clinical programs and services we provide to children in our state. Now, we are drawing more attention to the critical issues facing older children and adults, with unemployment being a priority," said Colleen Allen, president and CEO, Autism Alliance of Michigan.

To date, more than two-thirds of adult-related concerns directed to the AAoM navigator service -- a network of autism care professionals available for therapy and other autism treatments -- relate to challenges securing employment.

While individuals with autism have the potential to contribute significant skills and talents to the workforce, a lack of understanding of the unique characteristics of autism, basic support and required accommodations often preclude getting a job, let alone retaining that position for the long run. Some Detroit-area companies, such as DTE Energy and Ford Motor Company, are leading the way in the effort to hire individuals with disabilities.

"At DTE, we've established programs to embrace and truly understand the unique difference, talents and perspectives of all employees, customers and suppliers – including those living with a disability," said Dave Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative officer, DTE Energy. "We look past disabilities to abilities and possibilities, helping us achieve our goal of creating an environment where people can feel supported, valued and do their best work. I look forward to contributions from my colleagues to expand this work even more in the year ahead."

DTE Energy Foundation is the Presenting Sponsor of this year's "Michigan Shines for Autism" gala with additional support from premier sponsor PVS Chemicals Inc. and Diamond Sponsors AT&T, Consumers Energy, ITC Holdings, Suburban Motors Company and Strategic Staffing Solutions. Following the Gala, the Champion's Night Afterglow party presented by Sigma takes place in the exquisite lobby of DTE complete with a DJ, open bar, dancing and party games until 1 am.

For more information about AAoM visit or call 248.436.5606

About DTE Energy Foundation

The DTE Energy Foundation is the philanthropic arm of DTE Energy, continuing the legacy of community support and involvement of its electric and natural gas utilities, which serve 2.2 million electric customers in Southeast Michigan and 1.2 million natural gas customers in Michigan. As one of Michigan's leading corporate citizens, DTE Energy is a force for growth and prosperity in the 450 Michigan communities it serves in a variety of ways, including philanthropy, volunteerism and economic progress.

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For further information: Stephanie Beres, DTE Energy, 313.235.5555