All in the family

Port Richmond family hosts annual event to raise funds and awareness for autism.

From l to r: Joseph, Gabby, John Jr., Chelsea and Richie Dever pose for a family photo at the Autism Speaks Walk. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DEVER FAMILY.

By Melissa Komar

Every fall, more than 200 people pack the EOM Club in South Philly to raise awareness and funds for a cause that hits close to home for one Port Richmond family: autism.

John and Mina Dever, along with help from John’s ex-wife Barbara Dever, have organized the Autism Beef and Beer fundraiser for the past 11 years, raising thousands of dollars each year to benefit Autism Speaks and other organizations that provide services to autistic children.

This year alone, the Nov. 17 fundraiser brought in $32,000 from ticket sales, donations, sponsors and raffle baskets.

Donations for baskets come in from all types of businesses and individuals, from the Philly Pretzel Factory, to Bean’s Ball for Storm the Heavens Fund, to the Big 5 schools, to neighborhood families.

Local businesses, from Mercer Cafe, to Cescaphe, to Edgemont Caterers, to Dever’s sister-in-law, provide food for the event.

“It’s a little bit of everything, and we really get a lot of support from neighborhood people,” John Dever said. “It’s a lot of people who help us out and donate.”

More than 11 years ago, the Dever family participated in the Autism Speaks Walk. Because they hit a fundraising benchmark, the family was invited and attended a banquet, where Mina ran into a friend who hosted a beef and beer to raise money for the walk.

The Devers soon followed suit.

About 125 people attended, and approximately 25 baskets were raffled off at the first beef and beer the Devers hosted.

In recent years, the event has brought in anywhere from 230 to 275 people, with basket donations totaling nearly 100.

As the event continues to grow, so do the funds raised, as does the awareness.

“The №1 thing I think we’ve accomplished in having this obviously is raising money, but more than that, I think we’ve raised a lot of awareness around here,” Dever said. “I don’t know if that was our objective when we started. We started doing the walk and raised money for the walk. But, looking at it now, I get more satisfaction out of seeing the awareness I raised.”

People share stories about people with autism with him all the time now, according to Dever.

He points to a text he recently received from a co-worker about a kid with autism who just received a Division I scholarship to play basketball.

“And, that’s just from the awareness of knowing me and the situation with our boys,” he said. “The numbers are up. I always tell people, ‘You might not know someone right now, but you’re probably going to.”

For John, it’s more than knowing someone with the disorder, it’s a way of life. His sons Richie, 16, and Joseph, 13, both have autism.

To have so much support from his neighborhood, and from individuals, businesses and organizations beyond Port Richmond, is overwhelming for the Devers.

Power in numbers: The Dever family gathers with family and friends at the Autism Speaks Walk. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DEVER FAMILY

“It’s humbling. When I stand up there and talk and look out at these people, I think, ‘They’re here for my family and, it makes you feel pretty good that people will come out and support you like that.’ We’re blessed, ” Dever said.

Blessed may not be the first word that comes to mind for some who look at the Dever family at the surface level, but it’s a word Dever doesn’t use lightly.

“People might think, ‘Oh, you have these two boys with autism, and, it’s this really hard thing.’ Believe me, it has its days. But, it’s not all the time. I got two healthy boys. There are people who are dealing with a lot worse than this. We’ve got a good support group,” he said.

Dever points to his oldest son, two daughters and wife as being pillars of strength.

And, there’s Port Richmond

“It’s amazing. It really is,” he said. “We can’t do it without the people who support us. These people show up and support us. And, it just goes to show you, these people aren’t millionaires. They’re just middle-class people from the neighborhood who reach in their pocket and support you. It’s awesome.”

With the support of the neighborhood and beyond, Dever hopes the funds and awareness raised will one day lead to a cure.

“Hopefully, one day, the money we raise that goes to Autism Speaks, which goes toward research, helps find a cure. So, my grandkids won’t experience it, your grandkids won’t experience it, just so people won’t experience it,” Dever said. “It changes your life. It changes the way you live.”

In the meantime, Dever wants as many people as possible to have a better understanding of autism.

“You might see a kid, and there’s something a little different about him. Maybe he has autism, and people need to know that,” he said. “Bringing awareness to it, making people understand it and, hopefully, beating it one day, are our goals.”