Ravens’ Justin Madubuike helping Pathfinders For Autism launch donation drive at National Aquarium event – The Denver Post


A 6-foot-3, 293-pound Ravens defensive tackle and a 10-year-old boy from Alabama will meet Saturday at the National Aquarium and, in doing so, will launch a donation drive for children with autism in Baltimore.

Landon Smith, a boy from Alabama, and his family began a donation drive two years ago. Dubbed “Landon’s Puzzle Pieces,” the project’s mission was to collect and give out helpful items to children who, like Landon, have autism.

The drive expanded to Maryland last year, as Landon’s grandfather, who lives in Hagerstown, connected with Pathfinders For Autism, Maryland’s largest autism organization. Sensory items were collected last year in Hagerstown and this year, the drive will grow to Baltimore. Starting now and for the next two months, Pathfinders will collect items and distribute them to classrooms in Baltimore City in January.

Textured and stretchy toys, decompression balls and trampolines — all of which are especially beneficial for people with autism — are among the dozens of items on an Amazon wish list, which individuals can send to Pathfinders.

Justin Madubuike, a third-year Raven, is helping launch the drive. Madubuike and Landon will meet Saturday ahead of Pathfinders’ “Night Out at the National Aquarium” event, an annual gathering which is free (but ticketed and at capacity) for people with autism and their families.

Madubuike, who is tied for second on the team in sacks entering Week 9, decided earlier this year he wanted to partner with an autism organization, and he and his girlfriend reached out to Pathfinders. Rather than contributing behind-the-scenes, Madubuike wanted to interact with people; he and the organization decided the aquarium gathering would be an ideal match. It’s Pathfinders’ largest event of the year, bringing in 1,500 people who spend the evening freely exploring the aquarium.

“For me, it’s important because those kids sometimes can struggle growing up and finding an identity, stuff like that, and I just want to empower them,” Madubuike said.

The aquarium event welcomes people with autism in a controlled environment. Those with autism can experience sensory overload in some settings, and that can make it a challenge to visit lively places like the aquarium, said Rebecca Rienzi, the executive director of Pathfinders.

“It’s just to create that typical family outing without the stress, the stress of people looking at you if your child is melting down or maybe vocalizing or acting differently than is expected,” she said.

Pathfinders, whose president is former Oriole B.J. Surhoff, hosts about six such outings a year, including minor league baseball games, sailing excursions and trips to the Maryland Science Center. The Hunt Valley-based organization services the entire state and also leads trainings for social workers, teachers, first responders, etc.

Madubuike took a class in high school in which he worked with students with autism, he said, and he’d hoped to help in a similar way as a pro, but the coronavirus pandemic made that difficult; he was drafted by the Ravens in 2020. But he said he’s looking forward to the event, where he’ll sign autographs and interact with the attendees.

“It’s definitely something that’s near and dear to my heart, just to advocate for people who can’t advocate for themselves,” he said.



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