WARREN - Brooklynn VanKirk knew she wouldn't be leaving the Art of Autism show on Saturday without a piece of handcrafted jewelry.
The problem was that the 8-year-old girl couldn't decide which necklace she liked best.
"They're all really nice," she explained, edging closer so she could view the artwork up close. "I really like them all."
Brooklynn and her mom, Amber VanKirk of Youngstown, were among the dozens of supporters who turned out for the annual show / dinner at Enzo's Restaurant on Elm Road in Warren.
The art show featured the work of Mauro DiVieste, Barry Burkey, and James and Julia Shuttic, as well as students from the The Rich Center for Autism, which provides services to children with autism.
Proceeds from the event, in its sixth year, benefit the Rich Center, which is located at Youngstown State University. This year, some 200 people packed into the banquet hall for dinner, wine, entertainment and art.
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
Brooklynn VanKirk, left, and her mom, Amber VanKirk of Youngstown, examine some handcrafted jewelry.
"Last year we had about 160 people, so I would say we are growing," said Mauro DiVieste, who, along with his wife, Beverly, organizes and hosts the annual gala. "We're definitely pleased and very thankful to everyone for their continued support."
Georgia Backus, center director, said money raised helps defray the cost of therapy, educational treatment and social outings for the center's 70-some students, who range in age from 2 1/2 to 17.
Backus said from the beginning, when the center opened almost 10 years ago, the goal has been to provide services to every family that seeks it.
"Our goal has been that no child would ever be turned away because of their family's inability to pay. What we do is about partnerships. Partnerships with the community, but especially with our parents. They make events like this, and what we do at the center, possible."
Karl Ringenbach of Cleveland, who went to college with Mauro DiVieste, said he appreciates the efforts made by the organizers to make the event bigger and better each years.
"I've been here several times and every year there's more and more variety and more and more artists. When you see the grass roots effort to put something like this on and the dedication and commitment behind it, you really appreciate it even more. It really is a fantastic event."
Several years ago, Mauro, an illustrator, and Beverly DiVieste wrote the book "The Art of Autism: Being Mikeyfied" about their son, Michael, who is autistic. They have said that the idea for the annual show/dinner started at the former Blue Iris Cafe in downtown Warren, when the owner, Melissa Murphy, suggested showcasing the artwork of the students at the Rich Center and doing something for the school.
"And it's grown from there," Beverly DiVieste said. "The support we receive is amazing. It really is a community event. It takes the entire community to make it the success that it is. It's very exciting to see the support and the work that is done especially the work and dedication of the students."