Elpida Gala – an autism fundraiser like no other

“You’ve just won a brand new car!”

No, this wasn’t the Price is Right. Those words were heard at the Elpida Gala in Toronto on November 4.

It may be the only autism fundraising gala in Canada where a lucky guest gets the keys to a new automobile as a door prize. (That lucky guest won a fully-loaded 2017 Jeep Wrangler.)

Elpida is Greek for “hope” and there was plenty of it at this event that saw over 450 guests raise $105,000 while raising awareness for this disorder that now affects one in 68 children.

That sum was split between the Autism Research Centre at Holland Bloorview and ISAND (Integrated Services for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders) to support research and treatment in autism.

Parents passionate about autism

Paula Koutrakos, her husband, Themy, and members of their extended family created the Elpida Autism Foundation and the Elpida Gala in 2014 to support their youngest son, Matthew, who was diagnosed with autism.

Matthew is now 16, and with his teenage years comes new challenges.

“He has a lot of sensory issues with respect to crowds and noises which makes it difficult for us to go out as a family to any public places,” said Paula. “It’s usually on his terms only…otherwise it is difficult to get him out and we spend a lot of time at home.”

“When he doesn’t understand what is expected of him or asked of him, he gets very anxious and can act out in ways that are not appropriate, especially for a teenager,” she added.

The Koutrakos have done their best to navigate the health care system, seeing their fair share of doctors and specialists along the way. And then they connected with Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou at Holland Bloorview.

“Dr. Anagnostou and her team have shown great understanding and concern in helping us help Matthew,” she said. “Through their ongoing research, they have discovered supports and treatments to give Matthew and other children the tools they need to excel in life…. and we wanted to give back.”

A Growing Success

The Elpida Gala started small, attracting mainly family and friends, but in three short years the event has caught fire and now attracts business leaders and local politicians who are committed to helping kids like Matthew.

Paula has already started thinking about next year’s gala and is determined to raise even more for the hospital that has meant so much to their family.

“Holland Bloorview is a place that gives parents of kids with autism hope,” she said. “It helps children reach whatever their full potential is, regardless of what that is.”