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Ryan's Law creator wins Betty Jane France Award

December 01, 2012, Official Release, NASCAR.com

Lorri Shealy Unumb, an autism advocate, received the award named in Betty Jane France's honor. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Unumb helped change insurance coverage for those affected by autism

Lorri Shealy Unumb was named the winner of the second annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award during Friday night's Sprint Cup Series Awards at the Wynn Las Vegas. The creator of Ryan's Law received the award from Lesa France Kennedy, daughter of Betty Jane France and vice chair and executive vice president of NASCAR.

As a mother of three, Unumb was deeply impacted when her oldest son, Ryan, was diagnosed with severe autism at a young age. She then learned insurance would not cover the cost of treatment for children with autism. As a result, the 44-year-old drafted a bill -- now known as Ryan's Law that has been enacted in 31 other states -- to require insurance companies to cover treatments for autism. Unumb also founded the Autism Academy of South Carolina, a non-profit organization that protects the interests of children affected by autism and helps their families. The NASCAR Foundation's $100,000 donation will be used to create a scholarship fund to assist children who would otherwise not be able to attend the Autism Academy.

"Lorri Unumb's story is one of devotion to a child and dedication to a cause," France said, "She certainly is a most-deserving winner of our second annual award. Lori absolutely personifies what this award is about and embodies The NASCAR Foundation mission. We are all so very proud to have her as our second recipient, as we know she will continue to fight for the rights of families living with autism."

Unumb, a Lexington, S.C., native and former Miss Southern 500 Pageant winner, was chosen from a group of four finalists by a national fan vote on NASCAR.COM. Through this award, The NASCAR Foundation honors passionate NASCAR fans making an impact with children in their local communities and reflecting the commitment France has demonstrated with her charitable works and community efforts.

"It is hard for me to express what this gift from the NASCAR Foundation means for the Autism Academy of South Carolina," Unumb said. "This financial donation will give us the footing to build on our services and reach more children in need. We are so thankful for the awareness and recognition that The NASCAR Foundation has created for us and are grateful to everyone who voted to make this a reality."

The three semifinalists each received a $25,000 donation to their supporting charities. They are Ron Eby of Windham, Maine, representing Camp Sunshine; Michael Jackson of Duluth, Minn., supporting Starlight Children's Foundation; and Ali McDonough of Wilmington, Del., backing The Andrew McDonough B+ (Be Positive) Foundation. The four finalists were selected by The NASCAR Foundation board of directors from hundreds of applicants who made a significant impact on the lives of children through volunteerism or charitable work. The announcement culminated an eight-week period during which the four finalists promoted their causes and asked for fans to vote for them to receive the top award.

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