Marine City resident inspires community to #LightItUpBlue for autism awareness

A blue hue has been cast across Marine City and it’s not just due to the sky shining bright as spring is ushered in, or the blue waters of the St. Clair River. 
Tia Raica, Marine City resident who's inspired the community to celebrate autism awareness.
Through the ‘Light It Up Blue Marine City’ campaign, the Marine City Chamber of Commerce in partnership with St. Clair County Community Mental Health (SCCCMH) is encouraging businesses, homes, and public spaces to light up their exteriors with blue lights throughout April. Businesses are also encouraged to decorate their storefronts with blue ribbons, luminaries, banners, and signage promoting autism awareness messages. 

The inspiration to join the #LightItUpBlue movement came from 32-year-old Marine City resident Tia Raica.

“She's our unofficial ambassador and she has autism,” says Chris May-Pittiglio, Director of the Marine City Chamber of Commerce. “She's always been a very strong advocate – not just for those with autism, but anyone that has any kind of special needs.”

One of the businesses participating in the campaign by displaying blue lights is WaterStreet Winery. Co-owner Dave Swantek says awareness for any cause is important. 

Waterstreet Winery on 218 South Water Street in Marine City is celebrating with blue light decorations for autism awareness.

“Any time we can participate in the community to provide much-needed awareness, we’re happy to,” Swantek says. 

Marcella Adams, owner of Garden of Peace Floral and Gift, is also participating in the ‘Light It Up Blue Marine City’ campaign. 

“My blue lights are up all year round because I have two nephews and a godson who are autistic,” Adams says.

Garden of Peace Floral and Gift on 602 South Market Street in Marine City displays blue lights in front of business in support of autism awareness. Adams adds she’s impressed with the community’s participation in Light It Up Blue for the month.

“Some of the businesses went all-out to make sure they’re blue, and it’s very sweet that they have done this,” she says.

To further the reach of the #LightItUpBlueMarine city campaign, residents and business owners are invited to join the campaign's social media movement by sharing photos of their blue-lit homes and businesses
using the hashtag.

By spreading the message online, May-Pittiglio hopes more communities will be inspired to join the campaign. 

"This initiative is not just about raising awareness; it's about fostering a community of inclusivity and acceptance,” May-Pittiglio says.

The campaign is more than a symbolic gesture of displaying blue lights. Awareness and acceptance often come with meaningful change. 

The importance of raising awareness is getting people with autism integrated into the community and not having them excluded from things such as potential job opportunities, says Melissa Hunt, Program Supervisor at SCCCMH. 
Melissa Hunt, Program Supervisor for St. Clair County Community Mental Health.
“Sometimes a person with autism may be overwhelmed by sights, sounds, smells when they go into businesses and owners and other shoppers may see behaviors they’re not familiar with and don’t know how to respond,” Hunt says. 

May-Pittiglio says this has happened to Tia Riaca when she shops. 

“Not everyone always knows how to approach her,” he says. “It's not due to them not wanting to, it's just sometimes they don't know how to.”

To help address this problem, the Marine City Chamber of Commerce worked with SCCCMH to offer a training session on April 3 that helped local business owners and community members better understand how to interact with customers or colleagues with autism. The session also discussed resources and information available to employers so they can help create more job opportunities for those with mental health and intellectual disabilities. 

According to the Autism Society, more than 66% of young adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed and not engaged in higher education two years after exiting high school.

“I think this is a population that often gets missed or looked over,” says Hunt. “They have such great skills, you just have to know how to work with people to get them involved.”

SCCCMH and the Marine City Chamber of Commerce are also working together to gauge the community’s interest in providing more future mental health seminars. 

“The Chamber has been really supportive of mental health in the past year,” Hunt says. “SCCCMH has worked collaboratively at community events with the Chamber, so we’re really bringing mental health to light in a very positive manner.” 

Hunt hopes having trainings to educate community members will create a community of acceptance and understanding.

Though Tia Raica may have inspired the community to join the #LightItUpBlue movement, May-Pittiglio adds that raising autism awareness, educating employers, and improving inclusivity will benefit far more people than just her. 
The Peche Island Rear Range Light house in Marine City shining blue for the #LightItUpBlue movement.
“We have we have a lot more residents than people realize who have autism and special needs,” May-Pittiglio says.

While businesses and homes around town have already turned on their blue lights, April has just begun and there is plenty of time for others to join the movement.

“We are still handing out blue light bulbs to any Marine City resident who wants to participate so they can just put them into their porch light,” says May-Pittiglio.

Those who wish to get a blue light bulb can stop by the Marine City Chamber of Commerce any time during office hours. Additionally, luminaries may be purchased from the Chamber’s website

"We believe that by coming together as a community, we can make a real difference in the lives of individuals with autism and their families," says May-Pittiglio. "Let's light up Marine City in blue and shine a beacon of hope and understanding for all."
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Read more articles by Gabrielle Haiderer.

Gabrielle "Gabe" Haiderer is passionate about sharing stories that show the positive interactions between individuals and businesses that occur every day in our communities - interactions that inspire hope and motivate community growth. She has used this passion to share stories through a variety of media outlets - from television to radio to traditional newspaper to digital news. When she's not writing, Gabe stays busy running her own videography and social media management business in Northern Michigan, caring for her two furkids (Watson the siamese cat and Holmes the Corgi), spending time with her husband, and tending her garden.