8th Annual Dan Marino Foundation Walkabout Autism & Expo

8th Annual Dan Marino Foundation Walkabout Autism & Expo

The HDS Foundation is thrilled to once again participate in the 8th Annual Dan Marino Foundation Walkabout Autism & Expo, brought to you by Walgreens, presented by Badia Spices!

For years the Dan Marino Foundation has created many programs for children and young adults with autism in our community.  This will be the 8th year that they are holding this walkabout, and it is the HDS Foundation’s eighth year participating. One of the best things about this fundraiser is that 25% of all monies raised by the HDS Contenders goes directly to The HDS Foundation.  This is great for our organization because it enables us to continue to support and facilitate students and young adults with autism through our programs. Just a sample of some of the great programs that the HDS Foundation sponsors are:

Building Bridges at the Bay: This program helps Cypress Bay High School students with developmental disabilities learn life-long skills needed to function outside of High School.

HDS College Mentors: This program seeks to identify the peripheral needs of students with ASD-related disabilities who are seeking a college degree and living on campus. Mentoring is done through peer collaboration, which is one of the most effective tools available to facilitate the learning process and help navigate social demands.

The K.A.T.E. Scholarship: This scholarship embodies the fundamentals of Kindness, Acceptance, Teamwork and Encouragement, all values which can transform difficult situations into life changing wonderful experiences.

Come to the walk and raise money and awareness for this great cause with the HDS Contenders! Our goal this year is $10,000.  YOU can help us reach that goal! Think about what a great opportunity this is for us to work together and make a difference in the lives of those touched by autism.

Why we need your help:

  • There is no known cause or cure for autism.
  • Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder and, according to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 68 children in the United States are on the autism spectrum.
  • Currently 83% of adults with autism are unemployed, which is a startling statistic!

Help us make a difference by visiting http://myhds.co/hdswalkabout and donating today!

BRIDGES Holiday Party

BRIDGES Holiday Party

Today, December 14th, the BRIDGES class held their annual Holiday Party. The event took place at Chili’s, and was an exciting, fun filled lunch. The HDS Foundation had been so excited to join and was thrilled when the day finally came. Everyone met at Chili’s at 11:30 am, and were surprised to see two Cypress Bay alumni, Kate and Miguel. The students and especially Ms. Mansollilo and Ms. Gard were so happy to see their old students. The Holiday Party brought about great conversation with students, alumni, teachers, and the HDS Foundation members who attended. The students were able to work on and show off their social skills as well as their table skills, from ordering to paying with tip.

One of the highlights of the holiday party every year is the gift exchange. The students participated in a Secret Santa gift exchange, where each student draws another’s name from a hat. Students then learn as much as they can about the person they drew, and aim to get them a thoughtful and fun gift under the gift limit. The students all opened their gifts together, and everyone had big smiles as they opened their gifts, thanking their Secret Santa for what they had received. As tempting as it was to open the gifts and play with them right then, it was time for some lunch.

The waiters came to the table and took everyone’s order, and the students were all looking forward to the dishes they had selected. While waiting for the food, talk revolved around the gifts they had received, holiday plans, and their incoming food. The food arrived and talk stopped as everyone enjoyed the meal and thanked the waiters for bringing it. It turned out being a fantastic lunch.

After lunch, the students received another surprise. Kate, HDS Foundation’s Junior Board Member and BRIDGES alumni, presented the students each with a $25 gift card from the HDS Foundation in celebration of the holidays. The students were incredibly thankful towards the HDS Foundation both for the gift and for their hospitality, and incredibly happy about their gifts and the day. Kate was then asked to come in the new year and speak to the students about her journey after Cypress Bay. Delighted, she accepted and looks forward to the incredible opportunity.

The holiday banquet had come to an end, but spirits were still high. The students payed for their meal and tipped the waiters, thanking them for their work. Thanking HDS Foundation staff again for the hospitality and kindness, the students headed back to school for another exciting day.

The HDS Foundation would like to thank the BRIDGES teachers and students for hosting a wonderful Holiday Party, and to Chili’s for holding the event. Happy Holidays to everyone on behalf of the HDS Foundation, and to a wonderful New Year!

Mental Health Workshop

Today I attended a Mental Health and Awareness Workshop hosted by the Independent Living Resource Center and presented by Katrina Robinson-Wheeler. Those who attended the workshop were Emily Bell, Tara Rowe, Tyler Charles, and Benjamin Collazo, all of which are associated with Thrive.

At the Mental Health and Awareness Workshop posted by the ILRC, the two main topics Katrina Robinson-Wheeler talked about were how to achieve wellness not just during the holidays, but also throughout the year, and she also talked about the signs of mental illness. During the first part of the presentation, she talked about the eight dimensions that make up wellness. These dimensions are, Social, Occupational, Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, Financial, Environmental, and Spiritual. The social dimension talked about how people should either join a club, social group, volunteer group, or support group. The occupational dimension talked about how we as individuals should explore career or volunteer opportunities, and also find hobbies that interest us. The Intellectual dimension explained that we should find skill training in the area, we should find books or book series that interest us, and we should find public events in the area, whether it’s free or cost money, that help boost creativity and knowledge. The environmental dimension includes the appreciation of nature and to seek out experiences that have a calming effect on us, such as meditation or mindfulness. The spiritual dimension is the concept of discovering values and beliefs, finding a community that has the same outlook as you, keeping a gratitude journal, and helping those who need help or are in need of help. All of these dimensions are interconnected and help people create wellness within their lives.

The second part of the workshop talks about how to recognize mental health disorders. Mental health disorders affect a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behavior. It disrupts daily life, such as going to school, seeing family and friends, and daily functioning skills. Mental health disorders can be more disabling than many chronic physical illnesses. The workshop discussed a specific action plan to help those in a crisis. The acronym for this is ALGEE. A stands for assessing the risk of suicide or harm. L stands for listening nonjudgmentally. G stands for giving reassurance and information. E stands for encouraging appropriate professional help, and the last E stands for encouraging self-help and other supportive strategies. Sometimes you may have to implement all 5 strategies, but other times you may only have to implement 1 strategy. The speaker touched on the physical, behavioral, and psychological characteristics of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Finally she also talked about substance use and the ways in which it affects people who abuse drugs.

To sum up the workshop, I learned how to pursue wellness, the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, and how to help people if they are in a crisis situation.

Hoping these strategies will help you during the holiday season.

Best Wishes,


Developing Social Skills…You Can Bank on It!

Developing Social Skills…You Can Bank on It!

The students in the Personal Skills class at Cypress Bay High School had the opportunity this past week to replenish their individual bank accounts through funds from the HDS Foundation grant they received for the past year. As these students participate in various activities on and off campus, they specifically work on budgeting, social, communication, and many other skills needed to grow into a more independent and sometimes interdependent young adult. Last week’s off-campus activity focused primarily on budgeting skills. Since the students’ accounts were getting low on funds, they took a field trip to Bank of America to make deposits for upcoming activities.

Each of the students made a $100 cash deposit using the ATM machine at the bank. The students were provided verbal assistance and feedback so that they could successfully complete the deposits. Many of our own children can do this task effortlessly, but for the students who are in this particular program, they are lucky to have lessons like this explicitly taught as part of the curriculum.

Upon returning to Cypress Bay, the classmates decided to give back to the community by donating some of their money in their individual accounts. Each student made a donation to the Dan Marino Foundation WalkAbout Autism which will be taking place in January 2018. Every year, Team Cypress Bay has been the leader in donations from a school. They hope to continue in this tradition again for the 2018 charity event. The students in the personal skills class proudly make signs and banners to hang around their high school. They are also getting other clubs within the school to join their efforts with the slogan #OneschoolOneteam. As the school year progresses, so do the students in the BRIDGES class at Cypress

Bay High School. They progress in all the areas from budgeting to utilizing community resources, independent functioning, growth and empowerment, to social skills.

Please help Team Cypress Bay continue to be the number one fundraiser for the Dan Marino WalkAbout Autism by donating to their team. Twenty-five percent of all funds raised through Team Cypress Bay will go back directly to the Special Education department of CBHS. It’s a win-win for all!

Parent Night

Parent Night

This past week, Cypress Bay High School’s teachers in the Personal Skills class which is funded by the HDS Foundation put together its first “Parent Information Night” for the parents of students in the Personal Skills class as well as other parents from prior year programs whose teenagers have social skill deficits. The event was not only well attended, it was also well received by all who were there.

Various groups presented to the parents, including Dan Marino Campus, HAAPE, College Living Experience (CLE), and Pediatric Psychology Associates. Representing the Dan Marino Campus and Dan Marino Foundation was Nick Valvano and Susan Morantes. They shared a lot of details regarding the types of certifications available at both the Marino Campuses which are located in Broward and Miami-Dade. The attendees also learned about VITA, the software program young adults have the opportunity to use to practice their interviewing skills. One of the graduates from Dan Marino Campus, Spencer Cohen, spoke with the parents about his experience going through the program.

Ike Grapin, the student president of HAAPE at CBHS, along with Larry Rothman, Edgardo Santiago and Maria Jacobo, explained HAAPE’s programs they are starting in conjunction with United Community Options (used to be UCP) of South Florida. The goal of HAAPE is to help young adults with Autism be successful in the workplace.

Kelly Miller-Alvarez spoke on behalf of College Living Experience (CLE) to explain to the parents the supports that are available for individuals after they complete high school, whether they are attending a technical program or a full-fledged university in the area. She explained that limited services are supported through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR); and the staff at CLE works with its families to try to get tutoring especially before exams, since this seems to be one of the biggest hurdles for the students in college who participate in CLE.

The highlight of the evening was Drs. Nick Maccarrone and Amanda Strunin from Pediatric Psychology Associates who both spoke on the topic of relationships – from friendships to dating. They both provided some great insight in how individuals with developmental disabilities often misunderstand friendly gestures to mean more than they are intended. With the use of visuals of a friendship pyramid, parents were able to gain a better understanding of why their teenage child may struggle more than neurotypical peers in developing romantic relationships. For example, individuals need to be explicitly taught the difference between an acquaintance, evolving friendship, and a best friend.

At the Parent Information Night, Bonnie Schmidt from ScentsAbility, a micro-enterprise for individuals with developmental disabilities, had a vendor table in the room selling candles and some of the company’s other amazing products. Claudia Guerios, the chef-owner of Pirate Republic, provided delectable refreshments ranging from sandwiches to quinoa for all the guests. There was even plenty of leftovers because of her generosity!

The teachers of the Personal Skills class go above and beyond for their students. This has not gone unnoticed by the school’s ESE Department administrator Kassandra Fried who came to support the event. The feedback from the parents was all positive. The parents also enjoyed the tech-friendly tools that HDS Foundation dropped off at the event for everyone.

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