By Sarah Kuper
The upcoming KultureBall will not be just another black tie benefit, said Libby Matthews, vice president of growth at the Vestavia Hills-based autism nonprofit KultureCity.
“It’s not just your typical, get dressed up and bid on a silent auction,” she said. “People who come say they’ve never experienced an event like it.”
She said that’s partly because of the bevy of celebrities who come in for the event, but it also is because of the nature of the cause it supports – autism acceptance.
Founded by two Over the Mountain physicians with a son on the autism spectrum, KultureCity aims to change the culture around autism in practical ways. The nonprofit has initiatives that work to solve issues specific to children with autism. Through KultureCity, families can get location alert devices for a child who wanders away or a smart tablet that helps a non-verbal child communicate.
Only three years old, KultureCity already has garnered international attention and attracted celebrity spokespeople. Although based in Vestavia Hills, KultureCity has a presence in Boston, New York, San Francisco and even Uganda.
“I don’t know if the founders were trying to make it a national non-profit but it has just gone wild in the last three years,” Matthews said.
The organization has won awards from Microsoft, Tom’s of Maine and GreatNonProfits.org.
Matthews said one of KultureCity’s particularly effective programs is the Sensory Initiative. The program helps equip public places such as zoos and parks with tools and strategies to help children with autism enjoy the outing rather than be overwhelmed by it.
The Birmingham Zoo and the McWane Science Center are local examples of designated Sensory Friendly places. Families can check out bags that come with headphones and other items that may help keep a child from being too stimulated.
In fact, Matthews said, founder Dr. Julian Maha has been working with the Quicken Loans Arena, home to the Republican National Convention, to create a Sensory Friendly environment.
“The hope is one arena will copy another and soon many more places will be adapted for those with autism,” Matthews said.
The benefit on Aug. 6 will feature local and celebrity speakers – many with personal connections to autism.
Confirmed to attend so far are: stars of the “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Chris and Jacqueline Laurita; former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber; actress Alimi Ballard; ABC World News correspondent John Donovan; model and philanthropist Traci Johnson, Cheap Trick bassist Tom Peterson and TV personalities from Animal Planet.
ABC 33/40 is the official media sponsor of the event.
Matthews said one of the most impactful moments of the KultureBall is the LifeWalk, in which attendees can donate $36 in recognition of the average 36 seconds it takes for a child with autism to wander away.
In its short history, KultureCity has helped more than 14,000 children through its many programs. Matthews said she doesn’t see the nonprofit plateauing anytime soon.
“Every child has potential and KultureCity is about unlocking that potential in children with autism,” she said.
The KultureBall is Aug. 6 from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at The Haven Building. Tickets are $99 and available online at kulturecity.org/kultureball.