April 2nd has been declared by the United Nations as World Autism Awareness Day, and April as World Autism Month. This year, the Foundation, the HDS Companies, and the employees dressed in blue to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day. To celebrate World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Speaks created the Light It Up Blue campaign in which thousands of people around the world honor the individuals and families affected by Autism. Autism is an intellectual and developmental disorder that affects the ability to communicate and interact. One in 68 children in the United States are diagnosed with Autism, and more than 3.5 million individuals live with an Autism spectrum disorder.
Every year the HDS Companies and employees Light It Up Blue to support the Autism Speaks’ campaign. The Foundation also promotes Autism awareness on social media with #LightItUpBlue and the profile pictures that are updated to reflect support for the campaign. Employees take signs home to place in their front yards and/or purchase blue light bulbs which not only light up their homes in blue, but is an automatic donation to Autism Speaks. This campaign’s message is to “Shine a Light on Autism,” and HDS truly shines the light every year. The Light It Up Blue event was a success as we raised awareness and shared in spreading the message.
At HDS, we are committed to helping raise awareness for Autism and related disorders. Our founder, Cristina Miranda Gilson created the HDS Foundation inspired by the need she experienced first-hand raising a child with Autism. HDS Foundation was established to serve as the catalyst to bring resources to families with Autism and related disorders. We also partner with high schools like Cypress Bay Senior High School to create social skills classes, preparing high school students for post-secondary education. The Foundation and its program seek to identify the peripheral needs of students with ASD-related disabilities, who are looking for a college degree and to live an independent college life, furthering the Foundation’s mission aim at mentoring, achieving and living. Check out our photos below! How do you #LightItUpBlue?
This month, the BRIDGES students got the opportunity to visit City Hall, specifically the City of Weston Emergency Operations Center, or EOC. The EOC building was just recently completed, and houses the EOC, IT Department, Fire Marshal, Police, and other safety departments. This new building is located next to the existing City Hall, as it is part of the same domain.
At City Hall, the BRIDGES students were able to learn all about what the EOC does for the City of Weston, and how they do it. The EOC’s main focus is to keep the City of Weston safe in any emergency situations. One of the ways that they do this is by providing training to the city departments, especially the fire and police department. The BRIDGES students had the opportunity go into the training facilities and learn more about how different departments work with the EOC to keep Weston safe. They also learned about traffic and disaster management, and how the EOC prepares for dangerous situations.
The EOC also helps with storm readiness, such as hurricane preparedness, and the BRIDGES students were able to learn about important safety tips and what the EOC does to prepare. They also learned about the EOC housing provided on the third floor. This housing gives the people that serve during these disasters, especially first responders, a safe place to live.
The BRIDGES students also got to see the Information Technology Department where information is filed and stored so that it can be accessed at any time. This is the way the EOC keeps the people of Weston safe during any emergency situations, especially during disasters.
The BRIDGES students learned a lot and had lots of fun at the EOC. They got an inside view into preparing for emergency situations, from training first responders to storing data for later use. The students loved being able to have a first-hand experience in City Hall, and were excited by all the ways the EOC protects the people of the City of Weston. Thanks to City Hall and the EOC for giving the BRIDGES program this incredible opportunity.
This month, the BRIDGES class took a trip to A Painting Fiesta Art Studio for a social skills opportunity and fun outing. This trip allowed the students to explore their creativity through specific guidelines set forth by the studio. The social skills they used were those of receptive and visual communication that were then represented in their paintings. The students interacted and shared this experience together, which developed their group skills even further.
At A Painting Fiesta Art Studio, they had a sensory filled painting experience. It was a very hands-on way to employ their visual and auditory communication skills, following the spoken and visual guidelines provided by the instructor of the painting class. They also had the opportunity to explore their creative nature, as there was some freedom despite the guidelines. Even though they had the same instruction, the student’s art pieces looked different based on their own personal touch.
This was also great instruction on how to cope with stress. Observing and creating art is a very calming experience, and a great way to relieve stress. This teaches the students an activity that they can then use later on if they encounter a stressful situation, and they get a nice decoration out of it!
In addition, this was a community building experience. Any experience that a group of people go through together brings them closer as they have shared it, and can then talk about what they did and how they felt. The students all talked about the experience and their artwork after the class, and enjoyed looking at their own and others’ artwork.
The students had such a fun time at A Painting Fiesta Art Studio, and they all had incredible results! These BRIDGES students are great artists, check out their art in the pictures below. Thank you to A Painting Fiesta Art Studio for hosting this event and helping the BRIDGES students create their masterpieces.
Being a first responder is no easy task, but it is definitely an exciting profession to learn about. This month, the BRIDGES class was able to visit the Fire Department and learn about what it takes to be a firefighter. The BRIDGES students seemed very intrigued by what it means to be a firefighter, and may have even thought of being a firefighter after this inspiring visit.
First the students walked through the facility and explored the firehouse. Firefighters spend lots of time at the firehouse, and have very long work days. When they are not taking calls, they check that all of their equipment is working, keep the firehouse clean, and train. They train almost every day of the year so that they can always be the best at what they do. The BRIDGES students were able to see where the firefighters stayed if they spent the night, and the different places where they trained, took calls, and had meals.
Probably the most exciting part of the tour was going into the garage and seeing the equipment itself. The students got to see the firefighters’ uniforms and helmets, and saw a firefighter dressed in them. They got to see and even carry the hose, and understand how heavy it is and why firefighters have to train so much. They got to see the water backpacks that firemen use when they can’t take the trucks to the site, their flashlights, and the power tools that they used to get people out of dangerous situations. The coolest part of all was getting to see the firetrucks and even go inside of one! Inside, the students saw the control panels for the water that is stored in the truck, the driving area, and even where they turned on the sirens. They all had the opportunity to take pictures with the firetruck, and seemed so excited to have experienced going inside of one.
Being a firefighter is a hard job that takes lots of training and responsibility, and getting to learn about what makes a firefighter was an incredible experience. Thank you to the City of Weston Fire Department for taking the BRIDGES program on a great tour!
This month, the BRIDGES class took a trip to the Weston Regional Park. The purpose for this trip was to do a team building exercise outdoors. The students all had a great time, and were excited to get out of their usual classroom setting. Everyone enjoyed the fresh air and games, and it really helped the students build their social skills in many ways.
The point of any team building exercise is to strengthen the group dynamics so that everyone learns to work as one unit. A large component of working as a team, and a large component to the BRIDGES class, is improving communication skills which is vital in team building. Team building exercises, such as obstacle courses, are trust games which require a high level of communication so that there is organization and cohesion. It makes tasks like delegating, giving instruction and participating easier, as everyone will understand the plan and be able to do what needs to be done to get there. The BRIDGES students definitely used and improved their communication skills to be able to complete these exercises as efficiently as possible.
Another skill that the BRIDGES students had to use was cooperation. When working in a team, sometimes ideas or personalities may clash a bit, but compromise and cooperation help set these differences aside to reach the common goal. The BRIDGES students all had different approaches to completing the exercises. If they were all about going with their own ideas separately, they would not have been successful. Instead, they had to come together as a team and figure out which ideas would be best and how everyone could work together to reach their goal. Additionally, they realized that not everyone could be the leader, and they had to cooperate by taking on different roles, even if they weren’t the student’s favorite role.
Finally, they had to work on their trust of one another. It was a lot harder for the students to trust each other with completing a task, especially when everyone has different ways of doing something. However, no student can do everything themselves, and when it came time to rely on their peers they were all pleasantly surprised with the results of their trust. Even though the task may not have been completed the same way they would have completed it, trusting others brought new vision and different outlooks that were essential to their goals being finalized.
It was a great day out in the park for the students. They all thoroughly enjoyed the fun and games, the fresh air, and the exciting new way of using and improving all of their social skills. All in all, it was a very successful day.
The HDS Foundation relies on different allies of communication and networking to inform people about our programs and our mission here in South Florida and beyond. We recently had the opportunity to reach out over the airwaves, on the Here’s Help Radio Show, an innovative public access radio talk show that focuses on relevant and pressing issues in the community, specifically Miami-Dade and Broward County. The radio show and its hosts, Rixys Alfonso, Community activist and CEO of CauseMo Marketing, and Ron Hersey, a radio veteran, welcomed the HDS Foundation’s Founder, Cristina Miranda Gilson, on their talk show to speak about the foundation.
Cristina shared the inspiration that led her to start the Foundation, as well her experience in the affordable housing and tech industry, and how that has resulted in the success of the Foundation in providing different opportunities and resources for career transition, gainful employment, and independent living. She also touches on the struggles that a parent with a child on the autism spectrum experiences and how they, and others, can help to assist these young adults in achieving their goals in their personal and professional lives.
Check out our very own and learn about what we’re doing in this informative and eye-opening interview below!