April is Autism Awareness Month and on April 2nd we celebrate World Autism Day. Autism is a developmental disability that can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges. This month we shine a light on the 1 in 59 people who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Today the HDS Companies Team will come together to bring awareness and shine a light on individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Our staff will be part of our “Light it Up Blue” event by participating in a Company Zoom call, wearing blue and holding a puzzle piece to show their support for those individuals with ASD.
Awareness and acceptance are critical in helping individuals with ASD thrive and have a better quality of life and integration into the community. Bringing awareness about autism helps to educate everyone in the community, as well as advocating for their rights, which in turn supports those individuals with autism and their families.
Join us as we embrace and support the unique and special abilities in the ASD Community during the month of April and every day! To learn more about the work we do, follow us at HDS Foundation and hdsfoundation.org.
January is a time to recognize the great mentors who have made a difference in the lives of others. The HDS Foundation recognizes eight of our programs dedicated and respected mentors that make a positive impact each day with their students. As one of the pillars of our foundation, “Mentoring” plays a critical role in the success of the students we serve on the Autism Spectrum. Through mentoring, students are provided the tools to make responsible choices about school and life. Therefore, honoring these exceptional mentors who play a significant role empowering teens, giving trusted advice, and raising their confidence levels creates a positive mentoring relationship.
The HDS Foundation would like to recognize the following mentors:
- Tara Rowe
- Kathy Gorman-Gard
- Donna Mansolillo
- Courtney Henry
- Karla Lama
- Paola Papili
- Amber Hood
Stay tuned as we share how these mentors inspire and encourage their students!
“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” – John C. Maxwell
As we celebrate National Nonprofit Day, we take the time to recognize the immense effort nonprofits and charities put into serving their communities. Today, HDS Companies shines a light on our Foundation, a 501©3 nonprofit that was founded in 2008. The primary focus of our organization is to help facilitate the success of students on the Autism Spectrum, to work on social and independent living skills while also preparing for life after high school and a successful transition into post-secondary life and careers. Bridging the gap that can support the diverse abilities of young adults and facilitating college-level and other post-secondary education will strengthen this population’s chances for meaningful, long-term employment and self-sufficiency. Our Foundation is poised to help educate and provide information related to available, safe, and affordable housing options to further the possibilities of attaining independent or semi-independent housing.
Our programs are designed to further develop personal growth and independence:
- The HDS B.R.I.D.G.E.S. Program supports the development of school-based social and community life skills activities designed to meet the needs of ASD High School Students. Structured in the form of a grant, the Foundation encourages High School ESE Departments to create school-based programs that provide opportunities year-round for Social, Independence, Community and Personal Development to teens who have Developmental Disabilities within this population. The recipients of the B.R.I.D.G.E.S. Grant accomplish this by incorporating various community based-field trips to local businesses who are poised to provide potential future employment, life skills development initiatives such as establishing bank accounts, shopping opportunities, learning about transportation options, and social skills opportunities during the school year that allow for the inclusion of these students to typical high school activities such as Homecoming, Football Games, Prom, and many others. These are conduits to building better communication tools, peer mentoring, fostering friendships, and preparation for life after high school, including post-secondary.
- The Social Activities Program or S.A.P. is designed to enhance the lives of teens and young adults as they begin to transition to their post-secondary journey. The program is based on social activities leading to transition skills which provide students with disabilities a positive social interaction with their peers.
- The HDS College Mentors Program strives to identify the peripheral needs of students living with Autism Spectrum Disorder or related disabilities, who are seeking a College Degree and are living at a University or College Campus. Although the Program does not focus on academic course requirements mandated by the schools, it does focus on the guidance and supports needed by the students to achieve success in each of their academic fields.
- The ASDY-TECH Employment Training and Mentoring Program focuses on providing prospective employment opportunities to young adults who are on the Autism Spectrum. ASDY-TECH, coined after Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Young Adults (Tech Staff), is designed as a micro-enterprise entity of the HDS Foundation. The program focuses on technical projects that can be scaled to support the employment needs of the ASD population, while meeting the service needs of prospective clients, whether individuals or businesses. (This program is on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
Our programs work, and we have great success stories to demonstrate it! Check out our Happenings page to see what we’ve been up to lately!
It’s Autism Awareness Month- Let’s Light It Up Blue! In 2007, the United Nations recognized April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day to raise awareness for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). About 1 in 54 children have been identified with ASD according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.
This year, HDS Companies will be celebrating virtually as our employees come together to wear blue and pins that include messages supporting Autism Awareness. Be a part of our celebration by wearing something blue on April 2nd and tag @hdsfoundation in your selfies so we can reshare. We will also be highlighting our programs that help individuals with ASD become successfully independent. Be sure to stay tuned on our social media!
Want to find out how you can support the HDS Foundation? You can help with just a click of your finger.
Did you know that Amazon offers a sister website, AmazonSmile, that includes all of the same items, prices, and benefits PLUS donations? When you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5 % of the total purchase to the charity of your choice at no extra cost to you. All you have to do is sign on through AmazonSmile.com and select the HDS Foundation as your charity of choice. From there, any purchases made through AmazonSmile will donate a small proceed to our nonprofit.
Let’s Shine A Light on Autism Awareness!
In honor of National Mentoring Month, HDS Foundation would like to shine a light and highlight Dr. Tara Rowe, Co-founder of the University of North Florida’s Transition to Healthiness, Resourcefulness, Independence, Vocation, and Education (THRIVE) Program. Dr. Rowe is the ultimate mentor of the THRIVE Program and has made a positive impact on many of the THRIVE students to help with the transition from high school to college life.
UNF’S THRIVE Program ensures that UNF students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have a successful college experience. Mentors in the THRIVE program focus on social skills, independence and responsible living, and career development skills.
The HDS Foundation College Mentors Program has partnered with UNF THRIVE to support their mission with students living with ASD, or related disabilities who are seeking a College Degree and are living at a University or College Campus. This program helps students meet these needs by addressing the social and emotional challenges that interfere with academic learning and creating viable daily activities that mitigate those circumstances and help these individuals build strong interpersonal skills. It further explores the contributions these students can make to become the catalyst of change needed in our society to adapt to differences in learning styles, career structures, and social relationships.
We are proud to highlight all the great mentors that are a part of UNF THRIVE Program and the positive role they play in the lives of so many students. Mentors create powerful and trusting relationships with young people to help them feel empowered, supported, and understood when they need someone to encourage them.
“A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could. “(Zig Ziglar)
If this crazy, unpredictable, and difficult year has taught us anything, it has reminded us how grateful and fortunate we all are. This holiday season, the HDS Companies has chosen to support Children’s Harbor, a foster care organization whose mission is to keep families together. Throughout this month, we have been able to donate holiday decorations, volunteer to decorate and light up the harbor, and most recently adopt an “angel” and purchase gifts for him/her through a virtual angel tree.
Due to COVID and everyone working remotely, the HDS Companies created a virtual Christmas tree filled with angel ornaments on it. Each angel had a child’s name along with their wishes. Our staff members worked really hard in making these children’s wishes come true by finding those special gifts. It was really eye opening to read some of the wishes they had made. Some were the simplest of things like bed sheets, socks, a hoodie. We were so excited that we were able to find most of their gifts online and in stores, while also being able to spread some Christmas spirit to these children!
This project brought us close together as a company by requiring a lot of teamwork. Our generous CEO, Cristina Miranda Gilson, had the vision, and we all came together to make it happen. Our HDS Foundation team members helped organize the gifts as they came in by tagging the specific angel, while also taking pictures and sending it to the Children’s Harbor facilitator and then bagging them up to be picked up. When the facilitator came by, her face immediately lit up. She was not expecting so many gifts! She was ecstatic to see that each child would be getting exactly what they wanted – gifts that they have been talking about nonstop back at the shelter.
This experience was an unforgettable one, and a great way to end the year. Purchasing these gifts for children who have never had a wish list for Christmas before made our hearts happy and hopeful that this holiday season would bring lots of smiles. HDS is committed to supporting the overall well-being of our communities through social responsibility and company values. A big thank you to the HDS elves for opening up their hearts to make this Christmas special. We would like to wish the children and employees at the Children’s Harbor a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas especially for the B.R.I.D.G.E.S. Class! COVID can’t stop us from spreading holiday joy. Every holiday season our B.R.I.D.G.E.S. Students participate in their class secret elf exchange which we were still able to make happen this year regardless of the circumstances. Secret Elf has been a fun Christmas tradition for kids for many years.
Prior to Thanksgiving Break, facilitators Ms. Donna and Kathy put together all of the components of this activity to make it simple for students to accomplish. Each student was given the rules and a budget of $15 for gifts. During their Community Based Instruction (CBI), the facilitators presented a PowerPoint with a variety of gift options that students could choose. A picture and the price for each gift was shown, and students marked down their top five items. This created their Wishlist. The facilitators distributed students’ lists to their respective secret elf allowing them to buy a gift they wanted. During this same CBI lesson, students also were taught how to calculate sales tax and emphasized the importance of it in order to stay under the budget.
Then, right before the students took off for Thanksgiving Break, they had to come by the school to pick up the set of rules, gift cards, gift bags, and everything else that was included for this activity. At this time, each student received their secret elf name, their secret elf’s Wishlist along with a $15 gift card to buy his/her presents. During Thanksgiving break, the students went shopping, wrapped the gifts and filled out a holiday card.
This past Friday, the students came by the school for their holiday Secret Elf gift exchange. One at a time, students came out of their car and received their gifts along with delicious treats and goodie bags from their facilitators and HDS Foundation.
We want to wish our BRIDGES students and facilitators a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!
‘Tis the season to be Jolly! It’s the time of year where we look forward to gathering with friends and family, exchange gifts, and celebrate holiday traditions. In keeping with the spirit of giving, the HDS Companies is committed to supporting the overall well-being of our communities through social responsibility and company values. As part of our tradition to give back, HDS supports various charitable endeavors and participates in community service activities throughout the year, especially during the holiday season.
At HDS, we believe that volunteering and giving back through service projects is just as impactful as providing financial support to our communities. Whether by hosting back-to-school and toy drives, serving meals at homeless shelters, or participating in food drives that offer hot meals to homebound U.S. Veterans, seniors, and individuals with special needs, our workforce volunteer group, the HDS Contenders, enjoys giving back through volunteering.
This year has been challenging for everyone; the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed our world and financially devastated many families. During this holiday season, it will be more evident to see families struggling to make ends meet and many parents who will be unable to afford holiday gifts for their children. So how will HDS spread joy in a world of self-isolation?
The answer is: by spreading joy in safe and socially distant ways in our communities! This holiday season, HDS has chosen to support Children’s Harbor, a foster care organization whose mission is to keep families together. The Harbor ensures that brothers and sisters as well as pregnant or parenting teen moms and their babies can live together in a safe and loving home while in foster care. Throughout December, HDS Contenders will be purchasing toys and gift cards for the children through a virtual angel tree. We will be making a special delivery to ensure that those served by the Harbor have a memorable holiday. Together with other Harbor community partners, HDS has donated holiday decorations, and our volunteers will help decorate and light-up the Harbor.
Over the last 22 years, giving back has been at the heart of HDS and has always been a part of our company’s mission. We are grateful for our HDS Contender volunteers who have become this year’s Harbor Keepers.
Kindness – a universal language that binds people together regardless of race, religion, gender, political affiliation, and location. November 13th is World Kindness Day! World Kindness Day is an international holiday which was founded in 1998 and is celebrated around the world each year. This special day promotes the importance of being kind to others, yourself, and the world. The purpose of this movement is to highlight good deeds in the community focusing on the positive power! Let’s help everyone understand that compassion for others has the power to bridge the gaps!
Today, more than ever, the world can use a little more kindness especially in the Autism and disabled community. As mentioned last month, those with disabilities are two to three times more likely to experience bullying or negativity. The HDS Foundation wants to create change through spreading kindness, radiating positivity, and giving teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) confidence as we mentor, guide, and support them towards independence. Through our programs and initiatives, we are building productive, meaningful, and independent lives. The HDS Foundation remains committed to rise up by lifting others!
How did World Kindness Day Start?
It was first introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement. This organization was formed at a Tokyo conference in 1997 when Japan brought kindness organizations of multiple nations together and emphasized the necessity of a global kindness movement.
What is the purpose?
It serves as a reminder to all that simple acts of kindness have power and that together, we can all work to create a kinder world. Every kind act, even the smallest one, creates a ripple effect you can’t begin to imagine.
How do YOU celebrate?
Individuals are encouraged to go out of their way to be kind to others, whether that is at home, work, or out in public. Be sure to let others around you know how much you appreciate their kindness and generosity.
Simple ways to be kind:
- Write positive messages on post-its and leave them for people to find
- Call a relative or friend you have not spoken to in a while
- Pick up trash you see on the ground outside and throw it in the garbage
- Hold the door open for someone
- Pay for a stranger’s coffee or meal
- Compliment someone
- Surprise someone with flowers
- Offer to help with someone’s errands
THE LIST IS ENDLESS! The small things are usually what makes a big impact on others. On November 13th, share your act of kindness!
For more information on World Kindness Day, click here!
The B.R.I.D.G.E.S students let the ghoul times roll this past Friday evening celebrating Halloween as they dressed up in costumes and decorated their parent’s car with spiders, ghosts, and goblins. To add to the spooky fun, we also had balloons, candy, and music! Facilitators Donna Mansolillo and Kathy Gorman-Gard, Intern Caesar Falcon, and HDS Foundation Program Manager Liz Falk all participated in the event to make it a fun evening for the students. This year trick or treating took a different turn. Students drove through the bus loop at Cypress Bay where they stopped at four different stations and teachers came up to the car window to give their treats.
Prior to coming by to the school, students were given the fun task to be resourceful in figuring out how to decorate their car. Depending on their costume, many decided to keep the theme as they decorated their car. Vincent dressed up as Darth Vader and had Star Wars car decals all over the sides. On the back of the car he wrote, “May the Force Be with You”. Many of the other students decorated the cars with the traditional spooky decorations.
This event was yet another great opportunity for the B.R.I.D.G.E.S. students to show off their creativity! Lots of smiles were shared this fun evening! The students were delighted to be able to celebrate Halloween with their friends in a safe, yet fun way.