Turning adversity into inclusion: Birthday bash raises thousands for Autism Calgary

After no one rsvp’d to his son’s birthday party last year, an Airdrie dad sprung into action, creating an inclusive birthday party. The now-annual event returned Sunday, raising thousands of dollars for Autism Calgary. Jillian Code reports.

It was a year ago that Dustin Horlacher was in a tough spot after no one RSVP’d to his son’s birthday party.

He quickly came up with an idea for a big community birthday party so his son, Carson, would still have a celebration and one year later, it’s become an annual event with hundreds of smiles, and thousands of dollars raised for Autism Calgary.

“It turned into a great thing. The fact that I can have families come out and have fun and raise money while doing it, it’s awesome,” Horlacher said.

Donations through a silent auction and raffle have raised funds for Autism Calgary. With those proceeds going towards putting on even more events for kids with autism, building community for families sharing a similar experience.

“Oh [I’m] excited,” said Carson. “Just playing with my friends and stuff.”

Carson spending his 10th birthday bash becoming a pro at all of the games.

Read more: Airdrie boy’s birthday turns into community celebration after initial invites go unanswered

“I didn’t realize it was going to be on Father’s Day when we started planning this and then we realized it and I was like ‘You know what, I can’t think of anything else I’d wanna do. I wanna be hanging out with my son I want him to be having fun,'” said the boy’s father.

“I can’t think of anything better. It’s a great Father’s Day present, a great birthday present for my son, and for so many other kids too.”

Even though this event started as a birthday party for Carson, it has evolved to be so much more.

It’s now a celebration for every kid, especially those who have been excluded.

“We see it all the time, kids not being invited or not being included in birthdays and it happens quite often. And so this is something that — it’s so simple and it’s so easy, and it’s so easy to make kids feel like they’re special here,” said director of happiness at Big Fun Inflatable Park Derek Fuller.

Horlacher is already looking ahead to next year’s event, hoping to grow the inclusive party to bring in more people and create more lasting memories.

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