This year marked the 24th VISIONS Conference and Transition Institute, held at the Sirata Beach Resort and Conference Center in St. Pete. Many organizations, instructors, schools, and leaders came together to learn and be informed about transitioning outside of high school, strategies, and programs to support students with disabilities. This conference aimed to give students what they need to “survive” and thrive in college, their career, and their community.
The first day consisted of the opening session, vendor displays, an inclusive postsecondary update and the President’s Reception luncheon. HDS Foundation was one of the many that showcased their organization. They had great giveaways such as cell phone pocket, privacy camera protectors. Many of the attendees stopped by and learned more about the foundation and their mission. The HDS Foundation staff also went around and met different vendors and networked. It was very nice for the staff to build a connection and relate the information learned with others in community. The rest of the weekend consisted of a variety of sessions and keynote speakers. Many of the key speakers shared their story and struggles with their disabilities and what helped them be successful. Their story was very inspirational and gave insight to the audience of what can be done. The founder Cristina Miranda Gilson’s daughter, Kate had the opportunity to speak on behalf of UNF in a panel about college housing, and share her experience with others. This was such a great opportunity for everyone to get a testimonial of the UNF programs.
The HDS Foundation had an incredible time at the conference, and learned so much from everyone who was in attendance. The staff were very excited to share the information with the rest of the of the foundation. Thank you to the Division on Career Development and Transition’s Council for Exceptional Children and the Florida Department of Education for such a fun and informational conference, and we hope to be back next year!
This year, the HDS Foundation and some of its Board Members are very excited to be traveling to sunny St. Petersburg, FL to attend the DCDT Visions XXIV Conference from May 3-May 5, at the Sirata Beach Resort and Convention Center. There, we will be attending informative sessions and connect with others to learn more about the different career and transition programs and opportunities that are available.
If you are also attending, please stop by our booth and say hi! We look forward to making new and lasting connections to be able to provide you, and those in our programs and community, with more information and resources. To learn more about the Visions XXIV Conference, and the Division on Career and Transition, please visit Visions Annual Conference.
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 Dan Marino Campus will be hosting two open houses. The Dan Marino Campus provides post-secondary education for young adults aged 18 to 28 with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are two campuses, both located in South Florida. The primary campus is in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and there is also a campus at FIU in Miami. The main focus of the Dan Marino Campus is to prepare young adults with disabilities for adult life, both professionally as well as socially and in terms of well-being.
At Dan Marino Campus, students take multiple classes a day, usually for around three days a week. Some of the classes students take help them with daily life, especially life on their own. Other classes teach them professional skills out of their chosen specialties, such as technology skills. They also have classes aimed to helping them in their desired future career. These classes generally tend to be their longest classes, and will award the students certification by the end of their time at the Dan Marino Campus.
A great resource available to students through the Dan Marino Campus is the Virtual Interactive Training Agent (ViTA). This is a simulated interactive interview that the students use to prepare for the interviews they will need to have to get internships and then join the work force in the future. ViTA simulates a variety of interview situations so students can truly be prepared.
Students also get invaluable professional experience, as they intern, generally in the two days they are not in class. Being able to have internships not only boost their resume with job experience, but for the most part they are working in their desired industry of choice, and learning skills they will be able to use in the future. These internships are with Dan Marino Campus’s business partners and are a required part of the certification.
Dan Marino Campus offers three areas of program concentration: hospitality, computer technology, and retailing. The curriculum is “designed to help students obtain recognized industry certifications and qualify for good jobs.” Students select one of these concentrations as their chosen field of study, and focus on the specialization until they receive certification in that field.
Student life is also an important part of the Dan Marino Campus. Students can participate in a variety of interest-based clubs, seminars, and special events. Students are also encouraged to start their own interest-based clubs if they have an idea for one that does not exist. The faculty is also very supportive of the students, and aims to make every student’s experience a great one.
If you are interested in visiting the Dan Marino Campus or learning more about what they have to offer, please consider attending one of their two open houses. The first is Saturday, February 11th at the Miami Campus from 1pm-3pm. The second will be held at the Fort Lauderdale Campus on Saturday, February 25th, also from 1pm-3pm. Dan Marino Campus is an incredible program for young adults with disabilities, and the open house is a great way to learn more!
More information can be found at this link: http://www.marinocampus.org/openhouse
Each year since inception, the HDS Foundation has been a part of this event. Originally fundraising as the coveted “HDS Hackers”, our attention shifted when we realized that our efforts could not only help the DMF Walk but also, the local high school’s ESE Program. It was then that the HDS Foundation partnered with Cypress Bay High School to create Team Cypress Bay, and collaborate on fundraising efforts.
The beauty of the DMF Walkabout is that it provides a direct opportunity for a K-12 School’s ESE Team to become the direct beneficiary of 25% of the funds they raise. This allows the school to utilize these funds to buy equipment, supplies, and utilize for activities that support the programs that benefit this population of students. Cypress Bay High School’s team has raised thousands of dollars for the past several years, and this year, we are so proud that they once again are the #1 fundraising team, with $8,300 raised! One of this year’s captain’s Jeffrey Schour led the way, and engaged many of his peers at the Bay top once again make this event a success. Team Cypress Bay received many donations, most notably to the team as a whole, and with high achieving fundraising performed by Jeffrey Schour, Samantha Burns, The HOPE Club (who showed up in large numbers to support their peers, Donna Mansolillo, and former Cypress Bay alum student Katherine Gilson-Miranda, who attended virtually via Facetime. Now that’s a first!!
The leadership this team showed was inspiring, as we know these students worked very hard to make this event a success. The collaboration of other CBHS students was especially touching, as this has been one of our goals. We were delighted to have many family members also join the walk, and participate in this year’s activities. Special shout out to teachers/facilitators Donna Mansolillo and Kathy Gorman-Gard, Dr. Sandy Rizzo Weiner, Carla Otiniano and Meagan Caruso.
On Saturday, April 11th, 2016, the HDS Foundation participated in the Night of Stars, a 20th anniversary celebration for the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center. This Recovery Center assists a defined group of people who generally need assistance; that is, women who are pregnant and/or mothering and who struggle with trauma, substance abuse, and mental health disorders. Susan B. Anthony, as an organization, strives to take women possessing the aforementioned traits in and lead them to the path of recovery, all while caring for their children. The Recovery Center cares immensely about that specific aspect (caring for children) of this large problem – they aim to help these troubled women get better without breaking families apart. They realize that foster care systems, and the difficulties and intricacies that come with finding lone children foster families, can be emotionally taxing on the child. So, in taking in entire families, the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center is doing a service for mothers and children: the family is overjoyed to stay together, and the mother is additionally happy to be on the road to recuperation.
Realizing the positive impact the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center has on the community at large, and having a tendency to be philanthropic, Cristina, founder of the HDS Foundation, decided to take part in the Night of Stars event. She bought out an entire table for the night, and HDS staff filled it in support. The Gala, as some referred to it, was a huge success, with much food eaten and many laughs shared. Between the silent and live auctions and ticket sales, as well as a number of donations, a large amount of funds was raised for the Broward County branch of the Recovery Center. As a result, more children in Broward can stay with their mothers, and more mothers in Broward can be taken in. The Susan B. Anthony organization, and all who played a part in this event, contributed to creating safer, happier, and healthier lives for many distraught women and children. HDS is glad to have been a part of it.
World Autism Awareness Day fell this year (2016) on April 2. Each year, HDS joins others around the world in celebrating Light It Up Blue, a campaign designed to spread awareness about and celebrate autism. Those involved “light it up blue” by showcasing and promoting the color blue, as a symbol of autism, as much as they possibly can.
HDS’ constant involvement in and dedication to Light It Up Blue, and autism activism in general, can be explained by a look into the family of the CEO of the company – Cristina Miranda. The cause remains close to Cristina’s heart because her daughter, Kate, has autism. Her desire to help those with the disability grew so much over time that in 2009, Cristina founded the HDS Foundation in efforts to provide work-skill opportunities and mentoring to teenagers and young adults with autism. The initial goal of the Foundation was to provide support for those with autism who need it. That ideal still holds today.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that Cristina’s office continues to be so enthusiastic about Light It Up Blue year after year. Workers were seen promoting the holiday on social media days in advance, and a countdown was held on the HDS Foundation website. When the day to celebrate Light It Up Blue came around again this year, Housing and Development Software, eHousingPlus, and The HDS Foundation came together and sought to spread awareness. With blue posters in hand (and on the walls) and blue clothing worn by all, efforts to ignite the autism awareness cause and to cherish the talent and uniqueness of those with autism were far from scarce. All at the office were involved in the festivities, and the unity could be felt throughout the day. After all, that’s what Light It Up Blue, World Autism Day, and Autism Awareness Month are all about: coming together to further understand autism as a disability; and, even more, to show love and support for those who struggle with autism. This is how awareness is spread. 2016 saw a successful Light It Up Blue, at least at HDS HQ.
On Saturday, January 23, 2016, Team Cypress Bay participated in the Dan Marino WalkAbout Autism at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. The HDS Foundation and Cypress Bay High School (CBHS) teamed up and began participation in this fundraiser a few years ago. The efforts of those involved result in increasingly better outcomes as the years go on; and, this year was no exception. All people and groups participating raised tons of funds for the cause and, even more, spread awareness throughout their school and the greater community. Cypress Bay teachers Donna Mansollilo and Kathleen A. Gorman-Gard rallied students and their families and massively increased event attendance. The HDS Foundation team, including Cristina Miranda, Carla Otiniano MSW, and Dr. Sandy Rizzo-Weiner of Customized Interventions, worked diligently alongside the CBHS staff to ensure this event was a success. In the end, Team Cypress Bay was able to raise a hefty sum of $12,780.00, which proved to be quite an accomplishment for the group. Team captain Katherine Miranda-Gilson was the top fundraiser once again this year, beating out all other event participants. She worked hard, as did many, to recruit participants and raise funds for the Dan Marino Foundation. The CBHS ESE department was awarded approximately $3200 as a direct grant. This resource not only acknowledged the hard work and determination the department put forth, but helped provide classroom amenities and technological advancements for special needs students and classrooms at the Bay.
After the walk, the attendees danced to music sponsored by local radio DJs. Several local vendors were onsite providing more information about their programs and services. Walkers had the opportunity to sample foods and engage in other activities. It seemed to be quite an enjoyable event for all who attended.
We are so grateful to all the families and friends who came out to support each other and the larger cause and, additionally, those who were kind enough to donate to the fundraiser. The generous contributions to the various team members are what made this awareness-spreading and wholly helpful event possible.
Also attending were representatives from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) (Gigi Clinton) and Agency for Person with Disabilities (APD) (Gerry Driscoll, MSW, Regional Operations Manager) who also provided parents with some information about their respective programs.
Thank you to all the schools, VR and APD staff for attending and presenting valuable and advantageous information to Weston-area families. This event was the first post-secondary fair at Cypress Bay High School for this population of students and was a huge success. For more information about available resources, please visit our resource page.
Final Call for participants! The 2016 First Tee of Broward Golf Mentoring Program kicks off this Saturday, January 9th, 2016 2 PM at Weston Hills Country Club. Sixteen young players will be starting this 9 week program, led by Professional Coach Dustin Stearns. This Program promises to be a great addition to the available resources within our community, particularly where mentoring and social activities for older teens and young adults with disabilities are concerned. The HDS Foundation, along with Global Business Brokers, is sponsoring this event and partnering with the First Tee of Broward and WHCC to bring this activity to our community. For more information please contact email@example.com.