Maria Bustamante’s Journey

As a Lead Accounts Receivable team member at Lightspeed, my days are often filled with numbers and spreadsheets. But beyond the realm of business, my life took a significant turn when my son was diagnosed with autism at just 18 months old. Suddenly, my focus shifted from balancing books to navigating this complex new world.

Finding Support in a Complex World

In those early days, finding resources and support for my son felt like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, amidst the uncertainty, we were fortunate to discover Clearbrook. They provided invaluable early development programs and connected us with the North Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO), where we found a supportive community through a special education coalition.

One serendipitous discovery led to another, and through classmates, we learned about the Autism Speaks walk, an event that would later become instrumental in my journey. Participating in the walk opened doors to a larger network of support and opportunities to make a difference. It wasn’t long before I found myself deeply involved in the cause.

My involvement with Autism Speaks began as a volunteer at their Ride for Autism events. Over time, I transitioned into a marketing role, leveraging my professional skills to raise awareness and support for individuals and families. In 2017, when the founder of the Ride decided to step down, I saw an opportunity to step up and lead.

Ride for Autism event in Bartlett, IL. The 2024 Ride for Autism will take place on September 15th.

Leading the Ride for Autism

Taking the reins of the Ride for Autism Speaks was both a daunting challenge and a deeply fulfilling mission. My goal was clear: to expand the event’s reach and impact, channeling the funds raised towards providing additional programs and resources for children on the autism spectrum.

One significant decision we made was to separate from Autism Speaks and forge a new partnership with the Special Leisure Services Foundation (SLSF), the philanthropic arm of Clearbrook and the Northwest Special Recreation Association (NSRA). This strategic move allowed us to direct our efforts towards initiatives that directly benefit our community, including Special Olympics, adult programs like Pursuit, transportation services, and early development programs.

Last year, thanks to the generosity and support of our sponsors, participants, and volunteers, we were able to donate $20,000 to SLSF, significantly contributing to the expansion of vital resources for individuals with autism. Yet, there is still much work to be done.

Looking to the Future

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that 1 in 34 children are on the autism spectrum today, the need for additional resources and support has never been more pressing. My vision for the newly named Ride for Autism Chicago extends beyond fundraising; it’s about building a brighter future for individuals with autism and their families.

As I continue on this journey, my commitment to advocating for autism awareness and acceptance remains unwavering. Together, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and supportive world for individuals of all abilities. Join me as we ride for a cause, making a meaningful difference one motorcycle at a time.

I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Lightspeed for their unwavering support throughout my journey through their generous charitable incentives. These incentives have empowered me to make a tangible difference in the lives of individuals and families affected by autism. Together, with the support of companies like Lightspeed, we can continue to ride towards a brighter and more inclusive future for all.

Maria Bustamante

Maria Bustamante

Maria Bustamante has been a pivotal part of the Lightspeed team since ADP acquired the company in 2004. After a brief hiatus from 2017 to 2022, she returned with renewed vigor and now serves as the Lead Accounts Receivable Manager. Maria's deep-seated passion for motorcycles and the biker community makes her role at Lightspeed a perfect fit. Beyond her professional achievements, Maria is dedicated to creating an inclusive world for her adult autistic son. Her commitment is evident in her extensive volunteer work. She led the Ride for Autism Speaks for 10 years before founding Ride for Autism Chicago, an annual charity event held in Bartlett, Illinois. This year’s ride, benefiting the Northwest Autism Community, is scheduled for September 15, 2024. Maria's efforts have not gone unnoticed. In December 2023, she was honored with the Kevin T. Kendrigan Spirit Award by the Special Leisure Services Foundation (SLSF) for her exceptional contributions to enhancing recreational opportunities for children and adults with disabilities. Maria’s dedication and spirit continue to inspire those around her, both within the biker community and beyond.

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