New Westminster restaurant supports families with autism

Some familiar voices will be sharing their story at this year’s El Santo CAN fundraiser.

The New Westminster restaurant is holding its annual fundraiser for the Canucks Autism Network on Sunday, Oct. 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. The organization supports families affected by autism through sports, recreational and social programs.

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“We have raised between $40,000 and $50,000 over the last four years,” said Alejandro Diaz, owner of the local restaurant. “For me, it’s not much the money. I always say it’s the awareness.”

This year’s fundraiser features Al Murdoch, who is the voice of the Vancouver Canucks at their home games, and New West resident Ryan Chilton, a public address announcer at a variety of sporting events, including New Westminster Hyacks football games.

“Every year I have a CAN connection, something related to autism. Ryan is on the spectrum. He has been learning from Al,” said Diaz. “Al and Ryan are going to be part of my fundraiser. Every year I have a story. Al has been mentoring Ryan. Ryan has been learning how to be a broadcaster.”

Murdoch and Chilton will share their story at the fundraiser, which includes live music and entertainment, guest speakers, a live and silent auction and a seven-course dinner with drink pairings. El Santo CAN also features a new twist this year.

“We have invited Piva – that is the other thing that is going to be different. Piva is going to make a couple of the courses,” Diaz said of El Santo’s neighbour on Columbia Street. “For us, that also shows the community that everybody is helping each other. This is the first year we have a restaurant as a guest.”

The pairing dinner features tequila and mezcal from Casamigos, the company founded by George Clooney.

As the father of three boys, including one on the autism spectrum, Diaz wants to do what he can to raise awareness about autism, which, according to Autism Speaks Canada, includes challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. The annual fundraiser is important to him as it creates awareness that helps reduce the stigma, allowing for social learning, increased social acceptance and improved social standing for kids with autism.

“The awareness is very important,” Diaz said. “All these little kids are as important as anyone else.”

Diaz said people on the spectrum should have the same opportunities in life as anyone else.

“Ryan had the support from his parents, from the community. Now he is an example of success,” he said. “I think people will want to hear his story.”

Along with the fundraiser, Diaz is pleased to be part of a provincial working group that’s discussing a new funding model for kids with special needs.

“It’s not just for kids on the spectrum. It’s for other kids,” he said. “If you have a proper funding model, if you have a typical kid, having the proper allocation of funds, all the kids are going to benefit from that.”

Tickets are $145 and available at (search for El Santo CAN).




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