Local nonprofit Today’s Champions is making a difference for the autism community with their programs that benefit people with autism. The organization was founded in honor of a close friendship between renowned race car driver, Bryal Clauson, and the founder of the organization’s son, Ben William Hodgin. Their friendship began in December 2011 through a mutual love of sports and continued until Bryan died tragically in a racing accident on August 7, 2016.
Because of Bryan’s friendship and the way he treated Ben like a true friend and peer, he was able to challenge him to do things nobody else was able to challenge him to do. He embodied all that the word “champion” means. Since the day he passed away, Ben’s family has been committed to honoring his legacy of treating all people with dignity and respect.
Bryan started the event Racers for Autism years ago at the Chilli Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with the hopes of spreading awareness about autism in his racing community. To honor his memory and further his legacy, Today’s Champions wanted to continue this important event. In 2019, they successfully held their first Racers for Autism event in Tulsa and have continued this event in Indiana since 2021. This year, the event will be held on September 26 at Daredevil Brewing Company in Indianapolis.
According to Beth Hodgin, executive director of Today’s Champions, “The funds raised at the Annual BC’s Racers for Autism event go to our backpack program and first responder initiatives. The majority of our efforts support the Indiana autism community.”
Another initiative that is making a big impact in the community is called BW’s Backpack Program. This program provides sensory backpacks that include sunglasses, noise canceling headphones, a stress ball and fidget spinner. The items de-escalate mood and soothe the senses, so that stimulating events can be enjoyed with less stress for individuals with autism. Every person should be able to have fun, and these backpacks help their recipients to relax and do just that.
“To date, we have supplied over 400 backpacks to various Indiana Pacer games, the Indiana State Museum, the Autism Society of Indiana’s SOAR program with Delta airlines, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and various Indiana schools,” Hodgin says. “We partner with the Autism Society of Indiana (ASI) and will supply backpacks at all major events.”
Today’s Champions also provides First Responder Autism Training with the goal of specific autism training to first responders, security personnel, teachers and other influential members of the community. This training will help the first responders to better understand how these situations can be confusing, hard to process and difficult to understand for people with autism — especially when parents, family or friends are not around to make sense of, or help de-escalate, a potentially confusing situation.
“In 2023, we are again partnering with ASI, supporting all opportunities to train first responders, and provide continual awareness to these communities,” Hodgin says.
Organizations like Today’s Champions are making an important and lasting impact on our community as they advocate for those with disabilities. For more information on the organization and how you can get involved, check out their website at todayschampions.org.