Participants of last January’s WalkAbout Autism walked through the team tunnel at Sun Life Stadium with Dan Marino, former Miami Dolphins quarterback, to benefit organizations in South Florida.
Schools, groups and individuals in the South Florida community congregated at Sun Life Stadium to raise money and awareness for autism – a disease that affects one in 88 children.
The Dan Marino Foundation (DMF) – along with the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD) and the Autism Society of America chapters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties – organize, execute and benefit from the WalkAbout.
The walk was inspired by leading advocacy agencies that desired to raise money for local programs and services, according to Dr. Michael Alessandri, the executive director of UM-NSU CARD.
“It is always very gratifying to see so many families come out to celebrate autism awareness and raise funds for needy organizations,” he said. “Having the event at Sun Life Stadium is also very exciting because our families can walk on the field and enjoy the stadium from a different perspective than usual.”
Clinical staff at UM-NSU CARD offer support to patients with autism and autistic-like diseases, along with their families at the Flipse building. Their services include family support, technical assistance and consultation, parent and professional training programs, and public education activities, according to the Center’s website.
Schools that participate receive 25 percent of the funds they raise for their own special needs programs, according to Amanda Murray, a spokesperson for UM-NSU CARD.
“As budgets continue to get cut further and further across the state of Florida, this really helps to give back to the needs of each school,” she said.
124 schools were registered and helped to reach the walk’s overall goal of $500,000. Another registered team was the brothers of UM’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
The fraternity has fundraised for autism since its inception in 2006 and has worked closely with the DMF since 2010 when the WalkAbout was first established.
“Autism isn’t the national Beta cause. It’s something that we chose to do ourselves,” said junior Kyle Dungca, who served as Beta’s co-PR chair. “We saw that it wasn’t on campus and we wanted to address that somehow.”
The WalkAbout Autism is one of many philanthropy events put on by the fraternity that stresses the importance of giving back to the local community, according to junior Troy Gulec, Beta’s social chair.
“It’s in this community, and that’s what I think all of us should do philanthropy-wise: support local Miami,” he said.