Girl launched Every Piece Counts — a campaign she hopes will get people to sponsor puzzle pieces for $1 so that the completed project can raise $24,000.

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HACKENSACK, N.J. — Kaitlin Reilly spends her free time a little differently than most teenagers.

Sure, she plays tennis, does volunteer work, is the treasurer of the Northern Highlands Regional High School Latin Club and a member of the National Honor Society.

But the 17-year-old junior also spends hours and hours putting together jigsaw puzzles.

With her latest puzzle she’s hoping to raise money and awareness for autism. Reilly is working on a 24,000-piece puzzle called “Life: The Great Challenge” — images of sea life, Atlantis, wild animals, sailboats, the solar system and more. It was once certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest commercially available jigsaw puzzle. Reilly is listed in the “Life” puzzle’s Hall of Fame, where she currently holds the title of “Youngest in the World to Complete Solo.”

Last month, she launched Every Piece Counts — a campaign she hopes will get people to sponsor puzzle pieces for $1 so that the completed project can raise $24,000. The money will be donated to Autism Speaks, an organization that funds research for autism, increases awareness of autism spectrum disorders, and advocates for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

Q: How did you get interested in doing puzzles?

A: I started when I was about 10 years old. I just saw this beautiful picture of New York City while I was in a toy store and it ended up being a 1,000-piece puzzle. I just loved that picture. And I was hooked from then on. It’s framed in my basement.

Q: When did you first complete the “Life” puzzle?

A: It got to the point where I could do 1,000-piece puzzles in a few hours. I had been doing puzzles for about five years. One of the puzzle companies I buy from had the “Life” puzzle. I skipped over the 5,000-piece … 18,000-piece puzzles and tried this. I have several tables set up — about seven of them put together — to form the 5-foot-by-14-foot shape. The puzzle is 72 square feet. I first completed it at 15. And I’ve completed it three times since. Now I’m doing it for the fourth time.

Q: How did you get the idea to combine your love for puzzling with raising money for autism awareness?

A: I was working on a puzzle and my brother was watching me. He said we should do something with this. He had the idea to sponsor pieces. I picked Autism Speaks because I have a cousin and several family members and friends who have autism, so it’s really close to my heart.

Q: How much in donations have you collected so far?

A: A little under $1,300 from a combination of strangers, family and friends. We’ve been getting a lot of emails and comments from people talking about their children who have autism. And even some from people who have children with autism who like to work on jigsaw puzzles.

Q: How long will it take to complete the puzzle?

A: It takes about 250 hours. I go week by week and day by day. Weekdays are difficult with school. I work on it on the nights when I don’t have a lot of school work. Weekends are the time when I can set aside six hours to spend with the puzzle. Hopefully I’ll be done by September or October — that’s the goal.

Q: What will you do with the puzzle when you complete it?

A: We’re looking for a home for it.

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To learn more about the fund-raiser visit:

Donations may be sent through the website or to:

Autism Speaks

Attn: Sarah Caminker


1 East 33rd St. 4th Floor

New York, NY 10016