Aces for Autism made headlines in February 2020 with the announcement that sports analyst and former NFL star Tim Tebow had been picked for the organization’s annual banquet. But seven months later, the entire event had to be sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A year later, Tebow is back on the roster as keynote speaker for the eighth annual fundraiser, which is scheduled for Oct. 25 at the Greenville Convention Center.
“We were supposed to have him last year, but, due to COVID, we just couldn’t pull it off,” Aces Co-founder and President Kyle Robinson said. “So we’re super excited.”
Aces is among area nonprofit organizations working to make up for time and income lost due to COVID-19. But what 2020 was to cancellations, 2021 is to modifications due to continuing uncertainties associated with the virus.
Last week, the Center for Family Violence Prevention, which had an all-virtual Domestic Violence Impact event in 2020, hosted a small group of supporters for a luncheon, followed by an online release of author Alicen McGowan’s keynote address.
Both Aces for Autism and Carolina Pregnancy Center, which traditionally host fundraising banquets each October, also are making changes this year.
CPC’s annual Celebrate Life Banquet, held virtually with smaller “watch parties” last year, is returning as an in-person event Thursday. But this year’s fundraiser, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Convention Center, is billed as "A Night of Praise." No meal will be served.
“Not knowing what the future was going to provide, we decided that we would go with theater-style seating and eliminate the banquet. It gave us a little more flexibility,” Executive Director Sherry Thornton said, adding that the event will be able to accommodate additional participants who did not register to attend.
Speaker David Bereit, who appeared in a brief video shown for the 2020 Celebrate Life event, has been rescheduled for this year’s fundraiser. He is co-founder and CEO of 40 Days for Life, a prayer and fasting campaign outside of abortion facilities.
CPC, a nonprofit agency that provides pregnancy support and abstinence education, has set aside a time at the beginning of the event for guests to meet board members and Thornton, who joined the center in the spring of 2020.
“We decided we wanted to give that option to people to get together, especially since we were not able to get together last year,” she said. “It’s always better, if possible, to try to have face-to-face. There’s just something about meeting together as a group.”
For this year’s event, organizers have brought together a choir, made up of about two dozen members from churches that support the center. Thornton hopes that the musical addition will become part of a new tradition that will continue even after the fundraising event is able to return to its customary format.
Aces for Autism also will usher in some new features this year, including moving its auction to an outdoor event with online bidding beginning a week in advance. Like Carolina Pregnancy Center, Aces has taken steps to alter the banquet portion of its fundraiser, providing theater-style seating for general admission ticket-holders. Event sponsors will be invited to a dinner prior to Tebow’s keynote address.
In addition, in an effort to eliminate congestion in the lobby, greeters stationed outside will use a cell phone app to check in ticket-holders as they arrive.
Robinson is expecting a large turnout for the event, which generally brings in $125,000 to $150,000 for the nonprofit treatment and educational center that provides therapy for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Not being able to host last year’s event significantly affected contributions.
“But we had people in the community that stepped up and supported us,” Robinson said. “We’ve been really blessed throughout the pandemic of being OK and riding through it. Has it been hard just like everybody else? Absolutely, but we’ve been able to survive.”
Despite not being able to host some of its traditional fundraisers, CPC, too, has managed not only to keep its doors open but to open new ones, putting down roots for the first time in its history. CPC this summer purchased a permanent location, 209 E. Arlington Blvd., moving in during late August and early September.
Aces in August opened the Samuel C. Robinson Child Development Center, for children with autism, ages 2 to 5, and their siblings. The center, which is able to serve families that otherwise would remain on a waiting list for therapy, is located next door to Aces’ main office at 925 Conference Drive.
Robinson said Aces did not yet have a permanent home when the organization first began talks with the Tim Tebow Foundation about four years ago. The now 7-year-old nonprofit was meeting at Oakmont Baptist Church when foundation President Steve Biondo paid a visit.
“He invited us to dinner that night (and said), ‘What you guys do falls right in line with what Tim is all about. You’re serving children with disabilities,’” Robinson said. “Tim is very outspoken about his faith. This (Aces for Autism) is a ministry.”
Two years later, Aces invited Tebow to speak, but it would take two more years to get him to Greenville.
“We were fortunate enough to make that happen,” Robinson said. “We had to wait a little longer than we wanted to, but it’s all worked out.
"It’s going to be a night of encouragement and just inspiration for everybody.”
Carolina Pregnancy Center’s Celebrate Life, “A Night of Praise,” is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday. There is no cost to attend, but the event is a fundraiser. Visit friendsofcpc.org. Aces for Autism’s annual dinner and auction will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 25. General admission tickets are $30. Both events will be at the Greenville Convention Center, 303 S.W. Greenville Blvd.