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Local stars shine for autism on Oscar night

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‘Evening with the Stars: Benefit Gala’

InterContinental O’Hare, 5300 N. River Road, Rosemont

Tickets start at $200 for individuals; tables seating 4-10 start at $1500, and include an all-inclusive evening starting at 5:30 p.m. with pre-show VIP reception and premier seating

(224) 567-8573 or

“I want people to feel like they’re actually at the Oscars,” said Teri Steinberg.

The Highland Park mom is co-founder of “An Evening with the Stars,” set for Feb. 24 at the InterContinental Chicago O’Hare in Rosemont.

So, the stars — celebrity hosts Mark Nilsson, Ted Brunson and Patti Vasquez — will come out, and “fashion reporters” will, in true Hollywood Oscar night style, interview guests about their clothing as they walk a red carpet into a theater.

Some 300 attendees will view televised Oscar coverage on multiple giant screens. “It feels like you’re right there in California, celebrating,” said Steinberg.

“An Evening with the Stars” is the fifth annual toast to the 85th annual Academy Awards. But it’s also a fundraiser for autism, sponsored by the Chicagoland chapter of Autism Speaks. Last year, the event raised $150,000.

“This year, I’m sure we’ll raise even more,” said Laura Ashman, an event organizer.

Ashman has done her part to make that happen. For months, she’s been drumming up auction items. She’s especially excited about a donated basketball signed by Chicago Bull Derrick Rose. And her Riverwoods neighbor, pastry chef Gale Gand, will donate a cooking lesson at Elawa Farm in Lake Forest. Gand will also donate signed items, including an apron and her cookbook, “Gale Gand’s Brunch” (Crown Publishing Group, 2009).

Steinberg, a Highland Park mom who has experienced living with autism first-hand through her son Billy, also hopes that guests learn more about autism through the event. The hosts will announce facts and information about autism during commercial breaks from the awards show.

“The audience is there for the Academy Awards, but they’re also really receptive to learning about what the event is about,” Vasquez said. “Last year, we ran informational videos that later became TV advertisements.”

Vasquez, comedian and Chicago mom, will share the story of her life, including experiences with her seven-year-old son with special needs, Declan, through a new reality show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, “My Life is a Joke.”

But as Vasquez will explain at the event, the statistics on autism are sobering. Autism Speaks reports that one in 88 children is diagnosed with autism, which is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders. The disorder, which is caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences, is characterized by varying degrees of communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, and repetitive behaviors.

The event is as much about education as about entertainment.

Ashman has learned a lot about autism through her son, Sander. “If you were to ask me, like some do, I would tell you that I would not change a thing about my experience with autism, or my fabulous son, Sander,” she said. “He has no pretense, no ego.

“You get a sense that everyone in the room is there for the same reason. It’s about helping out kids,” Ashman said. “It’s really a beautiful thing.”

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