Article: Event raises funds for autism!

Charity Night held by Cable Bay Vineyards, co-owners Neill Culley and Caroline Petrou toast their first annual Autism New Zealand fundraising evening hosted by John Haweksby.

"I try to help parents find their children again."

That is the message from Autism New Zealand's Neil Stewart, founder of the Way to Play programme.

Way to Play teaches parents strategies for exciting and fun ways to play with their autistic child.

Mr Stewart made the comment at a sold-out charity dinner and auction at Cable Bay Vineyards on Friday night which raised $14,600 for Autism New Zealand.

The event was put on by vineyard owners Loukas and Caroline Petrou and Neill Culley, whose son Reuben has autism.

Guests enjoyed canapes and a four course meal with wine matches. In between courses, auctioneer John Hawkesby entertained the crowd with anecdotes about his latest escapades in New York including meeting Ringo Star.

And he made sure the bidders dug deep for the cause.

"If you can't open up your cheque book, that's fine. Just offer up your grandchild."

There were fierce bidding wars before several magnums of Waiheke and other New Zealand wines went under the hammer.

A 2010 magnum of Larose made by "the legendary Caribbean Johnny Depp of Waiheke Island Stephen White" went for $650, while a double set of 2008 and 2010 Mudbrick Velvet went for $750.

A signed Vodafone Warriors jersey donated by Sir Peter Leitch was grabbed for $750 and a signed 2013 squad All Blacks jersey went for $1750.

But an initial one-off trip for six hosted by Neil Culley aboard a luxury sailing boat with lunch prepared by Cable Bay head chef Sam Clark was so popular that the offer had to be repeated. Both trips went for $1450 each.

Finally, a jarrah sculpture donated by sculptor Anton Forde raised $2800 for the cause.

Mr Culley says after trips to doctors and specialists, starting when Reuben was two years old, he and Reuben's mother Denise were told: "You're child has autism - good luck.

"Autism isn't understood in the wider community. They call it autism spectrum disorder because no two kids are the same. It's hard to grasp what it means.

"We learned there is no cure. I can't say enough how important programmes like Autism New Zealand's ones are."

Some of the money raised will go directly towards helping Waiheke families with autistic children.

The evening was the first of more annual fundraising events for autism planned at Cable Bay Vineyards.

This article was published on the Stuff website 20/11/13