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Towne Salue: Jason Cherry, Siblings of Autism

Dec 05, 2016 03:07PM ● Published by Becca Newell

By Becca Newell // Photo by Tony J Photography

Jason Cherry isn’t your typical 20-year-old. The Annapolis resident is a former professional racecar driver, a local business owner, and founder of the nonprofit, Siblings of Autism.

“This is where you give me credit,” jokes Catherine Purple Cherry, his mother who’s sitting next to her son during our interview. “You know, leading by example,” she adds, laughing.

Cherry smiles, nodding in agreement, his relaxed demeanor in full effect. His poise would be an impressive feat for any young adult with so many responsibilities on his plate, but Cherry’s business and philanthropic endeavors aren’t his only concern.

Nineteen days before our meeting, Cherry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Our interview takes place shortly after his first round of chemotherapy. In total, he will undergo five chemo treatments before radiation therapy, but he is, fortunately, expected to make a full recovery.

“Radiation is going to be a walk in the park compared to chemo,” he says, with a chuckle.

This story isn’t about his illness, however. Miraculously, his positive spirit, energetic drive, and sense of humor aren’t dampened. And, like Cherry, that will remain the focus of this piece.

Cherry’s involvement with autism basically began at birth. His adopted older brother, Matthew, was born on the autism spectrum and, as a result, he suffered through periods of violence during his adolescence. From 2014 to 2015, while pro racing at venues across the nation, Cherry partnered with the Autism Society of America—initially spurred by his mother’s involvement on its board—to advocate for and promote the organization. With a car and helmet branded for autism awareness and large cheering squads attending each race, Cherry became well known throughout the circuit.

Although his adoration for professional auto racing is obvious, he ultimately decided to leave in 2015 to pursue his business venture, Mission Escape Rooms. The interactive entertainment experience, located on West Street, tests the wit and skills of attendees as they solve puzzles to unlock the room they’re trapped in.

“I saw a need and a place and I knew I could immediately move forward with it,” he says, explaining why he decided to open Mission Escape Rooms earlier this year. “I wanted to be able to carry this hustle that I had from racing and make stuff happen.”

While the company readied for its launch, Cherry remained involved with the Autism Society of America, attending conferences and leading speaking engagements. And, being the self-starter type, he decided to establish a nonprofit, Siblings of Autism, in partnership with the organization.

As a sibling of a child with autism, Cherry says he’s familiar with the stress it can cause within a home, so he wanted to form an organization that would create a “shining light” in the life of others undergoing a similar experience.

Unlike many self-owned businesses that are for personal gain, Cherry funnels profits from Mission Escape Rooms into his nonprofit to help fulfill that mission. Proceeds help to create educational scholarships, respite funds, and outreach programs for individuals affected by autism.

“It’s all personally funded,” he says, referring to his organization.

Cherry is eager to add that once he’s regained the energy he had prior to his diagnosis, he’ll be planning additional fundraisers to benefit the nonprofit.

“I was organizing a color run to go through the city of Annapolis with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Siblings of Autism,” he says, explaining that the project was put on hold after his chemotherapy treatments began. “I hope to hold it in spring; it’s ready to happen when I’m ready to make it happen.”

Before this article went to print, I revisited with Cherry to check in on his prognosis. After finishing chemo, scans revealed that all of the cancer cells were metabolically dead. Once he’s completed radiation therapy, he’ll officially be in remission.

He’s been told his energy levels will return within a few months, but it’s clear his unwavering spirit won’t have him sitting still for long. And while he might not be going as fast as he would like right now, he’ll continue enhancing and expanding both his business and philanthropic ventures one day at a time.

“That’s where I find excitement,” he says. “That’s what I love.”

For more information, visit Siblingsofautism.org.

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