LUKE Darcy is a big man with a big heart.
The former Western Bulldogs captain has organised a charity event for the Learning For Life Autism Centre – a not-for-profit organisation that provides subsidised, intensive, early-intervention programs to pre-school children afflicted with the disorder.
It's a cause that's close to home for the father-of-four, who has friends whose lives have been touched by autism.
Learning For Life defines autism as "a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to speak, communicate, socialise, learn, play and behave in an ‘appropriate’ manner".
After seeing first-hand the benefits of the program, Darcy decided he wanted to help the fundraising effort.
"When you have some sort of profile, as I have through footy, you get asked to do a lot of different things. But this is one cause where I could see that every dollar spent can completely change kids' lives," he said. "It was an easy thing to get behind."
And so the concept of the 'Kickin' It For The Kids' event was born.
The fundraiser will be held at Darcy's bar Melbourne Public at South Wharf from 6pm on Thursday August 29.
Darcy has enlisted Collingwood president Eddie McGuire and comedian Mick Molloy – his colleagues on Triple M radio's 'Hot Breakfast' program – and the trio will head a football panel that will feature guest appearances from AFL players including Essendon captain Jobe Watson.
Former Hunters & Collectors frontman Mark Seymour will also play a solo acoustic set.
Tickets are $75 a head, which includes cocktail food, and all proceeds will be donated to the autism centre.
"Sometimes the label that goes with a word like autism paints a picture that's not necessarily true, and that's why the Learning For Life program is so important," Darcy said.
"It's all about early-intervention because there's evidence that if you get to children young enough when the brain still has plasticity, it will repair and there can be amazing results."
The problem for many families is finance.
"It takes almost 40 hours of one-on-one tutoring a week, which unfortunately costs a lot of money – potentially $50,000 a year – and the charity tries to support those people," he said.
"It's heartbreaking to see kids who you know can be helped, but money is standing in the way. It can be debilitating, really serious and really sad for people who haven’t got the right resources. It might be the difference between a child talking or going to a mainstream school."
One of many success stories of the Learning For Life program has been six-year-old Charlie, who is now attending a mainstream school. A Collingwood fan, he also went to his first AFL game recently.
"He's a beautiful little boy," Darcy said. "Two years ago there's no way Charlie's family would've even contemplated taking him to the footy. With all the noise and distraction, it would've been too much for him. But he went three weeks ago and he loved it.
"His life has been changed profoundly for the better."