Father, son journeying to all Michigan YMCAs to spread awareness about autism

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - A father and his autistic son are on a one-of-a-kind journey. Last November, Alan Stokes realized he could take his autistic son Jonathan to different YMCAs in the state as part of their family's nationwide membership.

"Jonathan has always loved the YMCA since he was two years old, and I just wanted to get him out and experience the state of Michigan, all the diversity that we have here, so I just said to him, 'Let's go visit every YMCA in the state of Michigan,'" says Alan Stokes, Jonathan's dad and a Lansing resident.

One of Jonathan's favorite things to do at the YMCA is swimming, and it also helps with his condition.

"Because he has autism he needs the sensory stimulation, so in a swimming pool you can flap your hands, you can jump, and you don't hurt anybody - yourself or anybody else - so it treats his condition really well and gets him out there," Stokes explains.

The pair has gone to 26 of 48 YMCAs in Michigan so far. They usually take a day trip to a different YMCA each Saturday and then go to their home YMCA in Lansing on Sundays.

"The road trips when the weather's nice, it's something really enjoyable for him, and so it's just something we can do as a father and son that gives us something to do with our weekends and something to look forward to," Stokes continues. "There's people that are just enjoying themselves. We've carried on conversations with people at the Ys we've met, some of them have actually had the same conditions that we experience in our family, so it's been really nice to see that people all over the state can enjoy the Y and get a chance to experience it," he continues.

Each week, Jonathan maps out which YMCA they'll visit next. The YMCA of Marquette County is number 27 on their list - a special mid-week trip - and the longest road trip yet.

"So it's exciting for him, to see that interaction with them, traveling taking the great state in and coming to the YMCA pool and getting a chance to swim, play in our slide, check out the mushroom and all that fun stuff, we're excited to have Jonathan come visit our pool," says Patrick Markey, Aquatics Director of the YMCA of Marquette County.

Over the next couple days, Jonathan and his dad will visit four other YMCAs in the Upper Peninsula - another in Marquette County, and those in Menominee, Escanaba and Iron Mountain - for a total of 31 so far.

"We just appreciate the YMCA and all they have to offer people, especially citizens like my son who has autism, and I hope people around the state will continue to become members and support the YMCA because it's a great cause around our state," says Stokes.

After they visit all the YMCAs in Michigan, Stokes says they may start going to a select few YMCAs or do them all again because they had so much fun.