When Jeff Greiner’s son was diagnosed with autism, he and his wife were determined to help him and other children with autism experience outdoor adventure. Greiner, owner of Wildwater Adventure Centers and the Asheville Adventure Center, talks about the evolution of Zipping for Autism.

What inspired you to create this program?

My wife came up with the idea. Her inspiration was both the benefits our family had personally received from autism services and inspiring advocates, and also her desire to help educate other families about how to advocate for services from an early age. She also hoped to increase overall awareness about the tremendous impact of early intervention. 

About how many total number of participants so far?

Annually it’s between 150-200 team members. We have been doing the event for seven years so roughly 1,200-1,400 people have participated over the years and helped us raise over $250,000. 

What happens at the event? 

It’s work first, play later. Teams and individuals use the social media platforms, friends, and neighbors to rally fundraising support. 100% of the money raised by teams goes directly to autism services in Western North Carolina. Event costs are paid through sponsorships. Any extra sponsor money also gets donated. 

Then comes the fun. Always the first Sunday in June, the Adventure Center of Asheville blocks all tours on the ziplines and adventure park. Teams that raised $800 go on a zipline tour. Teams that raised $1,100 or more get to zipline and climb in the adventure park. Teams have included families, high school student groups, doctors’ offices, businesses, and groups of friends. Some teams even create their own shirts, costumes, chants, and tailgating area to hang out all day. Bike trails are open for free to teams that day 

Any memorable moments?

The commitment to raise a tremendous amount of money in unique ways has been fun to watch. Families have done bake sales at work, and seeing teenagers dominate the fundraising has been heartwarming. Seeing college students dress up in clown costumes and adults dressed as flying fairies and ninja warriors has been amazing. Once, a business with multiple office locations became so competitive that both teams  “sandbagged” money they had raised until the day of so the other team wouldn’t see their full amount posted on the Zipping for Autism website. Another team raised the money to zipline and then turned around and donated their experience to a group of adults with autism that would have never had the chance to go ziplining without this donation, effectively doubling their fundraising access.