HPD donates proceeds of Autism Awareness patches to United Ability

By NATHAN HOWELL | Staff Writer

HELENA – Over the month of April, the Helena Police Department created and sold autism awareness patches, which raised $1,815 that they donated to United Ability.

United Ability is a nonprofit organization that helps to assist by connecting people with disabilities to their communities and empowering individuals to live full and meaningful lives.

HPD created these patches because many of the city’s officers have a personal connection to autism, according to Sgt. Michael Johnson.

“The reason why we were interested is because we have several officers, including myself, with children who have special needs,” Johnson said. “We take it very personally. Something that we felt that we could do was to create a special patch to sell and donate to an organization that is helping families of children with special needs.”

According to United Ability Director of Communications David Barry, the partnership came after HPD Chief Brad Flynn wanted to return the favor to the organization after they helped his family out years back.

“It came because Chief Flynn has a son with a condition that we treat, and we helped do some early intervention things for the family a few years back,” Barry said. “From what he told me, he said that he had always wanted to give back to United Ability, and now that he is the chief he felt like he would be able to do that.”

The money that was raised will go to supporting United Ability’s Hand in Hand Early Intervention program. This program focuses on identifying developmental delays, children with a diagnosis and those who run the risk of delays in their first three years of life.

HPD created and sold patches in honor of Autism Awareness Month, which was the primary driver to raise funds for this donation.

“He told us that he wasn’t sure how they would sell at first, but then they sold their first 100 almost immediately,” Barry said. “They ordered 200 more and then sold through all of them during the rest of the month.”

The patches were popular among the local community, and even found their way as far as Maine.

“Our first batch sold out immediately,” Johnson said. “I even dropped a patch in the mail to Maine. We sent patches around the country.”

To celebrate the donation city leaders came out to United Ability for the check presentation. This included Chief Flynn, HFD Chief Peter Valenti and Mayor Brian Puckett who met with some of the people in the program.

“They came out here to give us the check in person, and to get to know some of our kids,” Barry said. “They showed off their cars and let the kids get in them. It was a great day for our organization.”

Barry said that he was grateful for Flynn’s dedication to this issue, and hopes that the relationship they have established will be a fruitful one to benefit the kids in the program.

“Like any non-profit we are always trying raise funds to fund our programs and services. This came to us out of the blue and it was such an unexpected surprise. This relationship will benefit us for you years to come,” Barry said.

United Ability has been serving children and adults with issues ranging from Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, rare genetic diseases and cerebral palsy to best identify how to improve their lives.

As a special treat, on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 adults from one of the programs were invited to HPD and HFD to tour their facility and learn more about what they do.

“The gratitude from United Ability and what their gift means to our programs and to the services that we provide,” Barry said.