5 for Good: Zumbathon for Autism Eats

Best Fitness Zumba Instructor Hosts Zumbathon to Benefit Autism Eats

Armani Thao has lots of fun with his nephews, Landon and Hunter Sorth. “We immediately had this just amazing bond,” Thao said. Thoa’s sister, Melina Sorth, said her brother made the effort from the start. “Ever since I had my kids, he’s always around,” Sorth said.

Sorth said both her sons have autism. It impacts Landon’s ability to speak, but he communicates in other ways. “Believe it or not, they’re both really great dancers,” Thao said.

Thao is a part-time Zumba instructor at Best Fitness in Chelmsford. This was the fourth year he hosted an event inspired by his nephews. His Zumbathon for Autism Eats supports the charity started by Lenard Zohn and his wife.

Andolini’s in Andover is where Autism Eats held its first autism-friendly dinner four years ago. Since then, there have been many more. “We’ve had over 70 events now in 16 different states,” Zohn said. The Zohn’s inspiration is their son, Aidan. They said he would often get too overwhelmed eating out. “Ambient noise, bright lights, not wanting to wait could result in (him) running for the door,” Zohn said. “Really any enjoyment that we had from going out was outweighed by this stress.”

Autism Eats tries to limit stress on families by carefully orchestrating meals. Restaurants are curated, meals are paid for ahead of time and buffets are stocked to reduce wait times. On top of that, everything comes with a side of understanding. “When we go, we feel so comfortable, he’s screaming (but) no one’s judging us,” Sorth said. “Everyone’s nice, everyone talks to each other.” “People that are sharing similar joys and similar challenges, and we want all these people to come together,” Zohn said.

Zohn said Thao’s support for Autism Eats through his Zumbathon has been instrumental. “That’s our largest fundraiser,” Zohn said. “He’s helped us raise thousands of dollars and that goes to families so that regardless of their financial situation, they can come on scholarship or subsidy.”

Zohn said the goal of Autism Eats is to increase the frequency of their dinners and bring events to new communities.

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