Keeping the love shining

STANWOOD — Tara Smith could have wrapped up the bulk of work on her senior project at Stanwood High School months ago.

She had organized a group of more than 30 people to gather pledges and join a walk in Seattle in October as part of a fundraiser for autism research. Her efforts netted more than $1,000 for Autism Speaks, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

In Smith’s mind, it wasn’t nearly enough.

“I realized that there was so much more that we could do,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to continue on and do more.”

Smith wants to help experts and society better understand the baffling neurological disorder that affects about 1.5 million Americans. Autism influences people’s ability to communicate and interact with others and is defined by an array of behaviors that affect individuals differently and to varying degrees.

Smith knows how debilitating the disability can be. Her 12-year-old brother, Noah, has autism.

Noah is nonverbal but makes many sounds. He is energetic but needs constant monitoring. His eyes can evade contact with others, but his older sister senses her brother’s love. He’s happier playing with the ribbons of a present than the present itself.

To date, he has uttered just one word the family could distinguish: “Tara.”

Noah clearly likes hanging out with his sister.

“His love shines through in many other ways and he inspires me every day and always knows exactly how to make me smile,” Smith said. “I love him just the way he is and know that he is autistic for a reason.”

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t want him and others to be able to talk some day.

On Friday, Smith and her friends will sing the words that Noah can’t.

As part of her senior project, she has organized a silent auction and benefit concert for autism research with performances by students, children and adults. It will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at the Stanwood High School Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $5.

Noah was in the back of her mind as she approached businesses for donations and trudged through the snow to ask permission to put promotional posters around town.

The concert combines her love for her brother and her passion for music. She has performed in musicals since she was a little girl and now teaches songs to preschool-aged children.

Smith is considering studying music education at Seattle Pacific University next fall. The school also has a music therapy program, which teaches how to use music to comfort and help others.

Friday’s concert means much more to Smith than putting a check mark by another graduation requirement.

“This will be the first one Noah gets to go to,” she said.

If all goes well, Noah will take the stage with his sister during a song.

“With Noah, even though he can’t communicate with words, he can connect with music,” Smith said. “It is something so powerful that everyone can enjoy.”

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or stevick@heraldnet.com.

Benefit concert

Stanwood High School senior Tara Smith has organized a silent auction and benefit concert to raise money for autism research as part of her senior project.

The concert is at 7 p.m. Friday at Stanwood High School’s Performing Arts Center, 7400 272nd St. NW. Tickets are $5.

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