Family Initiative’s 2022 Autism Acceptance Awards Gala raised over $300,000, far surpassing the goal of $200,000, to provide family-centered compassionate support, innovative programs and evidence-based therapies to children, teens and young adults impacted by autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The annual celebration was held at the culmination of Autism Acceptance Month on April 30 at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center & Amphitheater in downtown Fort Myers, featuring dinner, live and silent auctions and an awards presentation.

“Our annual awards gala is a celebration of the people and organizations who give their time, talents and treasures to support these incredible kids and families, and we are proud to recognize our friends and neighbors for their contributions,” said Co-Founder David Brown. “We are overwhelmed by the generosity of our community and are filled with gratitude for all who helped make this year’s event more successful than we ever imagined.”

Family Initiative’s annual Autism Acceptance Awards Gala recognizes and celebrates the everyday champions of the autism spectrum disorder community and their tireless efforts to promote inclusion, education and empowerment for the ASD community and beyond.

Honorees included:

  • The Champion Award was received by Florida State Representative Jenna Persons-Mulicka who has advocated fiercely over the years to bring change for families across Florida on a legislative and local level.
  • The Believer Award was presented to Cliff Smith for his commitment to volunteering his knowledge, experience and resources to support the autism community.
  • The Partner Award was given to Kim Verblaauw from Gulf Elementary School for her efforts to provide opportunities for students on the spectrum to have the same experiences as their peers to create an inclusive environment that serves as a model across the county.
  • The Dylan Award was presented to ASD mom and Lee County teacher Rhona Ranier. Her advocacy for students, children and families on the spectrum all while wearing the hats of an educator, autism mom and fellow autism parent is an inspiration to the community.

Proceeds from the Autism Acceptance Awards Gala will directly support children and families on Family Initiative’s waiting list, the hiring of certified clinicians and free or low cost community services to help children on the autism spectrum thrive. The nonprofit organization offers social skills programs, clinical services and community education for children and families in Southwest Florida.

The Autism Acceptance Awards was chaired by Jessica Van Hart with the support of a committee of parents and community partners. Sponsors of the event included Beattie Development, Danjo of Central Florida, Inc., Diversified Plumbing Services of Southwest Florida, Inc., Fabri-Tech, First Horizon Foundation, Northwestern Mutual, Synovus, Van Hart Provisions, AllPro Electric Inc., Americans Metals Supply, Auto Air & Electric, Beattie Countertops, Brown & Brown, Cambria, Cook Homes, Environmental Restorations, Inc., FineMark National Bank & Trust, Ferguson, Florida Weekly, G2 Technology Solutions, Independent Marine Surveyors Inc., Luxury Alliance Team, MacKoul Pediatrics, Priority Marketing, Pristine TLC Group, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank, Seacoast Bank, Studio+, Super Screen, The Ranch and West Bay Sitework & Paver Co.

The event’s photobooth sponsor was Hertz, Dollar Car Rental and Thrifty Car Rental, the cocktail hour sponsor was City Tavern and the silent auction sponsor was Transportation Consultants, Inc. A special thanks for the event’s success went to Deep Eddy Vodka, Mark Loren Designs, Norman Love Confections, Rally Point Garage, Republic National Distributing Company, Suncoast Beverage and Wilsonart.

To learn more about Family Initiative, the services they offer and their work in the community, visit FI-Florida.org or call 239-910-0712.

About Family Initiative

Established in 2015, Family Initiative, Inc. is a Florida-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to supporting children with autism and strengthening their families. Its team of clinicians serves children from compassionate, personalized approach through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Occupational Therapy (OT) services, and offers autism play groups, teen meetings, parent education, community conversations and more. In addition, the organization provides child welfare caregiver training and support through its Family Impact Program. Visit FI-Florida.org or find Family Initiative on Facebook and Instagram at @FamilyInitiative and on Twitter at @FI_Inc.