Small Talk: Learning Tree raises funds with high rolling gala
Feb 08, 2014 | 1725 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Left to right: Lisa Ann Spurling, Marc Williams, Mike Marion, Pat Murphy, Sheila Sears, James Sears, Aimee Spruill and Darren Spruill learn the game of roulette from dealer Codi Walker at The Learning Tree’s third annual Aces for Autism fundraiser. Submitted photo
Left to right: Lisa Ann Spurling, Marc Williams, Mike Marion, Pat Murphy, Sheila Sears, James Sears, Aimee Spruill and Darren Spruill learn the game of roulette from dealer Codi Walker at The Learning Tree’s third annual Aces for Autism fundraiser. Submitted photo
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Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control reveal that 1 in 88 children have been diagnosed with some level of Autism Spectrum Disorder, a complex intellectual disability that affects brain function. It usually manifests itself during the first three years of a child’s life and medical science has proven early intervention to be key to improving social behavior, communication and independence in children with autism.

The Learning Tree is a private, nonprofit school dedicated to serving children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Jacksonville is home to one of three residential Learning Tree schools in the state where students are given individualized 24/7 care in a home-like setting.

“What we do everyday makes a real difference in the life of very special children,” said Lisa Spurling, coordinator of resource and development. “We all share a mission to realize each child’s full potential.”

Jacksonville’s Learning Tree also operates Little Tree Preschool, a readiness program that prepares young children with autism for primary school.

“We have transitioned many students into the local school systems,” said Aimee Spruill, the preschool’s director. “And we love hearing from parents that their children are doing well.”

On Jan. 25, the Learning Tree hosted the third annual Aces for Autism Gala to raise much needed funds for their valuable and rewarding programs.

Held at Classic Too in downtown Anniston, guests enjoyed a delicious buffet of jambalaya chicken and rib-eyes with Bordelaise sauce, before browsing a silent auction filled with donated treasures such as an Amari Cooper print and a weekend in Gulf Shores.

While music, food and prizes got the party going, the true highlight of the evening was the high-rolling Vegas atmosphere created by Birmingham’s GoodFellas Gaming.

The professional dealers kept the crowds enthralled for hours with a series of popular casino games, which featured funny money instead of the real stuff. But that didn’t damper the competitive spirits of Tammy and Gary Wigington, Gerwin and Michelle Wallace, Sally Elliot, Stan and Ginger Ivey, David and Becky Hammett, Scott Howard, Paul and Martha Bryant, Kristi Warren, Tanya Sexton, Duane and Teresa Campbell, Jamie and Georgia Johnson, Stephen and Jennifer Frank, Aaron and Lori Anderson, Vickie Sears and Liz Maloney, all of whom enjoyed trying their luck at the slot machines and craps table.

While blackjack was easily the most popular game of the night, the “round and round she goes” roulette wheel also caught the crowd’s interest. A series of poker games including Three-Card Draw and Texas Hold ‘Em, were also a big hit (Read ‘em and weep, my friends). For the gambling novice, a tutor was on hand to teach the basics to gambling .

“I had never played roulette before,” said Darren Spruill. “It turned out to be my favorite game of the night.”
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