WATERTOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — A project collaboration between an autism-focused nonprofit and Watertown High School students is generating autism awareness and supporting local businesses.

If you take a drive through Watertown, you’ll likely see dozens of large, wooden puzzle pieces in front of local businesses. 

It’s all part of ‘Project Puzzle Piece’ — a campaign launched by the autism-focused nonprofit Sun, Moon & Stars and Watertown Public Schools. 

“The idea is basically we can have local business sponsor these beautiful puzzle piece signs, have the money go towards something that’s needed in our community for special education, and also with the signs, have it be a community-wide social media crawl,” explained Christine Faressa, President and founder of Sun, Moon & Stars inc

The puzzle pieces, symbols often associated with autism awareness, were designed by Watertown High School students and sold to local businesses. The $3,400 in proceeds went to the Special Olympics program ‘Unified Sports.’ 

The pieces were meant to be showcased in April for Autism Awareness Month, but COVID-19 put a halt to those plans. 

“Ironically, even though it wasn’t in April, we do feel that our sponsors–especially after COVID and all that’s happened–really need a push to get their businesses up and going,” Faressa said. 

Currently, there are 36 puzzle pieces placed around town; the hope is that people will take a photo with the signs, post it, and raise some awareness. 

Faressa told News 8, “Basically what they’re gonna do is just post on their social media, Instagram, or Facebook, and use our hashtag #PPPsocialmediacrawl.”  

The goal is for the selfies to not only raise awareness for autism but also bring business to the participating stores. 

Gayle Clark is the owner of Gayle’s Depot Square Farm Shoppe, a store participating in ‘Project Puzzle Piece’, and said she is thankful for the attraction the social media crawl brings. 

“To say ‘hey, I want to help the businesses that helped me and make these beautiful signs and get people to come out here to the business’ it was a really nice gesture,” she said. 

Recent Watertown High School graduate Evan Arnold helped design the puzzle pieces and is proud he could join in on the effort. 

“It’s really cool to see these pieces of plywood that we just started off with are now these incredible signs that people are seeing all around town,” he said. 

The social media crawl will continue through the end of the month and Faressa says she believes it will make a lasting impact. 

“I feel this is a great way to bring empathy to the community, have children understand what autism is but also help the community at the same time,” she said.