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Woman organizing her own Step Up for Autism walk Sunday

Dory Matwijkow and her son, Austin.

Dory Matwijkow and other members of Austin’s Angels pose with some of the treats she baked and sold at Easter time to benefit The Resource Center. Every September, Dory Matwijkow and her family and friends usually travel from their home on Grand Island to Jamestown to take part in the annual Step Up for Autism event put on by The Resource Center and Filling the Gap, Inc.

Matwijkow and company call themselves Austin’s Angels in honor of her son Austin, who is on the autism spectrum and lives in a home operated by The Resource Center.

Matwijkow and her family and friends participate in the 1.5-mile Step Up for Autism walk and raise money for the event. And Matwijkow, an accomplished pastry chef, donates some homemade items for the sweets auction held as part of the event. One of her items has raised the most money each of the past two years in the sweets auction, with last year’s Reese’s cup cheesecake drawing a winning bid of $200.

To say Matwijkow is invested in Step Up for Autism would be an understatement. So when the pandemic caused organizers to cancel this year’s in-person Step Up for Autism and replace it with a virtual walk, Matwijkow was disappointed. But she wasn’t about to let COVID stop her from supporting the event. On Aug. 5, she posted on Facebook that since the traditional Step Up for Autism walk was canceled, she was going to organize her own walk, and she asked her Facebook friends if anyone was interested in attending.

The response was overwhelming, with 70 people commenting in support of her idea and offering to help.

On Sunday, Matwijkow and her now expanded band of Austin’s Angels will conduct their own version of the Step Up for Autism celebration. Her walk will take place in an Erie County park, though she is reluctant to publicly name the location out of concern other well-wishers will turn out for the event and push her attendance above the maximum threshold allowed by New York state during the pandemic.

In addition to the walk, there will be gift baskets and, not surprisingly, a bake sale. Matwijkow is hoping to raise $5,000 from the event. Dozens of people have signed up to participate in the walk, with others making cash donations or contributing items for the basket sale and the bake sale.

“Holy smokes, I can’t believe this,” Matwijkow said of the success of her homegrown event. “Truly unbelievable. What a great thing.”

Though additional people can’t turn out to participate in the walk, they can support Matwijkow’s effort by making a cash donation. Donations can be made at www.stepupforautism.com or by making a contribution via Matwijkow’s Venmo account. To mail a donation, send a check (made payable to “Filling the Gap/Dory’s Walk”) to Filling the Gap, Inc., 92 Fairmount Avenue, Jamestown, NY 14701. Money raised through Step Up for Autism supports The Resource Center’s SUCCESS Program, which teaches socialization skills to youths on the autism spectrum.

You also can join Matwijkow ‘s walk in spirit by signing up to do your own virtual walk. You can register at www.stepupforautism.com.

The creation of the autism walk is just Matwijkow ‘s latest effort to give back and support others. For many years she and her family have participated in The Summit Center’s Autism Walk. Last fall she started baking sweets to raise money for Austin’s Angels, and this spring she branched out to also bake dog biscuits. Her treats (for humans and canines) have been popular, allowing her to donate the proceeds. In April she donated $1,000 to The Resource Center in memory of her father, Glenn Smith, who had died the previous month.

Matwijkow was pleasantly surprised by the response to her bake sales.

“I couldn’t believe how successful they were,” she said. “I have very generous friends who love my baking.”

The Resource Center has been supporting people with developmental disabilities and their families in Western New York since 1958. Filling the Gap is a not-for-profit organization that supports the development of services for Chautauqua County residents who are poor, distressed and underprivileged, especially people with disabilities.

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