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A record-setting event: Eagles Autism Challenge raises more than $8.1 million (and counting)

Brandon Graham helped kick off the Wawa Classic 30-mile ride.
Brandon Graham helped kick off the Wawa Classic 30-mile ride.

Records upon records are being smashed.

People are coming from around the world not only for the Eagles Autism Challenge, held for the seventh year on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, but also for the folks directing the Foundation, who are world leaders in what they are doing. It is a massive movement in terms of helping turn awareness of Autism into action, and that is something that brought Eagles Autism Foundation Executive Director Ryan Hammond to tears as she talked about the money raised over the weekend ($8.1 million and counting until May 31, when the fundraising portion for the event ends), the nearly 6,000 who participated in the event, the more than 38,000 donations made, and the 44 corporate partnerships crafted.

All from the heart.

"The impact is incredible and everyone has embraced this," Hammond said on Saturday. "We are taking Jeffrey Lurie's vision and the efforts of everyone are helping us make that vision come true. It isn't a one-year thing – it's something that we have made an everyday mission and it is, frankly, incredible.

"We launched in 2018 and then made it through COVID and we have not stopped gaining momentum. We have catapulted into a new level. Our visibility helped in part by the social media we have created, the passion of families that join us all year long for events, and the enthusiasm to represent the foundation wearing EAF merchandise proudly! We're the first Foundation to really lean into monetizing merchandise, for example – has helped us. We're just devoted every single day to inspire and be a model and let everyone know what is possible when you're inclusive and meeting the needs of the community. Beyond that, all are welcome to join us on this journey."

What is especially rewarding on days like this when the entire Eagles organization – players and coaches included – helps with connecting with fans and families – is welcoming the newest members of the Eagles' Autism Family and renewing acquaintances with those returning for another Eagles Autism Challenge. Those young children from 2018 have grown up so much and the families with them have gained from the benefits of being part of this community.

Above and beyond everything else, that is the greatest part of days like this for Hammond.

"There were so many little kiddos back when we started and now I see them today and they come up to me and hug me and they're my height and they've made such great progress," Hammond said. "It brings tears to my eyes all day. All day. Tears of joy and just realizing what we're doing and how it is making a difference in peoples' lives."

Jeffrey Lurie, the team's Chairman and CEO, is the Founder of the Eagles Autism Foundation and, truth be told, he made the community a huge part of his agenda 30 years ago when he purchased the Eagles. He is the one who makes days like Saturday possible. He is the one who brings these families together.

And on Saturday after the thousands of participants settled into the post-event celebration at Lincoln Financial Field after their ride, run, or walk – there were bicycle rides of 30 miles and 10 miles, a 5k walk/run, and a Sensory Walk – Lurie congratulated those in attendance with dozens of players flanking him on the stage in the north end zone of Lincoln Financial Field and he meant every word when he spoke about what it means to him to see a community once again come together like this.

"It's an amazing achievement year after year and we aren't close to being done yet," Lurie said. "We can accomplish so much working together like this."

These are the days when you understand more clearly how powerful and impactful the Eagles have made their philanthropic platform, about how much good they are doing for families and how much more they want to get done. It is a daily mission of love and caring and understanding and a lot of hard work and it's all worth it on days when so many thousands of people who have been affected by Autism come together to change the world.

"It is overwhelming, to be honest, in a great way, at times," Hammond said. "We are all committed to doing everything we can do to help as many people as possible. You see these kinds of days and it's just incredible. I'm so thankful and touched."

The Eagles Autism Foundation has announced that the 7th annual Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group raised more than $8.1 million for autism research and care programs today, thanks to 5,620 participants and 38,171 donations worldwide. One hundred percent of the participant-raised funds will be invested in groundbreaking research being conducted around the globe and in community grants for area-based organizations. Fundraising will continue through Friday, May 31. Since the event's inaugural year in 2018, a total of 159,395 donations have contributed to the more than $30 million raised for the Eagles Autism Foundation.

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