Friends and Neighbors

Learn about autism at town hall meeting


Special to The Miami Herald

At least 500,000 American children with autism will become adults during the next decade, according to the Autism Speaks awareness and advocacy group. These young people will need homes, jobs and the promise of a future. 

Learn more at a Town Hall Meeting with the focus, "Small Businesses that Employ People with Autism" at 7 p.m., Nov. 11 at Newman Alumni Center, University of Miami, 6200 San Amaro Dr. in Coral Gables.

Hosted by Autism Speaks and the UM-NSU Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD), the event is open to the public. Attending this engaging discussion will be persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder, their family members, and employment service providers and small business owners.

Coral Gables resident Tom Whitehurst is closely involved with Autism Speaks and is on the local chapter's founding board as well as with CARD. He said the event will include entrepreneurs employing people with autism who will tell about their successful models and support strategies. Whitehurst is also a parent who understands the challenges.

"Just as people who were alive when Pearl Harbor was attacked or when JFK was shot can vividly recall the moment in time when they heard the news, so too can we parents vividly recall when we first heard those words ‘your child has autism.’"

"We were told all of the things that our child would never be able to do, but nobody cared to share with us all of the wonderful things that they can do, and especially the joy that they bring to our lives. We spent the next 20 years helping our special children achieve those things that more or less come naturally to other children," he said. "However, as these children grow into adults we are faced with a much tougher and scarier future." 

Whitehurst said it is estimated by the Autism Society of America that more than 80 percent of adults with autism between the ages of 18 and 30 still live at home with their parents and that there is an 81 percent unemployment rate among adults with autism. 

  He hopes that the Town Hall meeting will both inform and inspire the families and other potential employers to start a business or hire these special adults.  

Speakers will include company representatives from Rising Tide Car Wash of Parkland and Lee & Marie’s Cakery in Miami Beach.

Lynette Estrada is also a parent of a teen with autism and a caseworker with the Transition and Adult Services Division at CARD.

"We need small business owners to come out and join the path of the future and take a chance and open their doors to hiring individuals with" autism spectrum disorders, Estrada said.

According to Autism Speaks, "smart employers know that the community of individuals with disabilities constitutes a $1 trillion consumer market and is passionately loyal to companies that hire workers with disabilities. Hiring individuals with autism is good for business and for society at large."

"Our children, now young adults, deserve to meet their full potential and have equal opportunities to find meaningful employment allowing them to enhance their quality of life," said parent Marie-Ilene Whitehurst.  

The Town Hall Meeting is part of Advancing the Role and Impact of Small Businesses in Employing Adults with Autism, an Autism Speaks initiative funded by a grant from the Ireland Family Foundation.

To learn more, call 305-284-6563. You can also e-mail for information and about event parking.


Calling all young writers: Eighth grade middle school students in Miami-Dade public, private and home schools are invited to enter this year’s Junior Orange Bowl Creative Writing Contest. The theme is "How Can We All Get Along?"

This is the 26th year for the essay competition. Entries are due by Dec. 6, and may be up to 500 words. Prizes will be awarded to three winning students and their teachers.   

TD Bank is a title sponsor and the South Florida Writers Association is a co-sponsor. The Creative Writing Committee has the support of Books & Books, HistoryMiami, Perez Art Museum Miami and Friends of the Everglades.  

Applications are available through the Junior Orange Bowl or online at Contact Connie Goodman-Milone, contest chair, at 305-662-1210. The awards ceremony will be in Coral Gables on Jan. 4, 2014. All finalists will receive a Junior Orange Bowl certificate.


Students and the public are invited to celebrate the new Stocker AstroScience Center this week through many activities at the Florida International University Modesto Maidique Campus.

The ribbon cutting ceremony will be at 10 a.m., Nov. 12, with guests including FIU President Emeritus Modesto “Mitch” Maidique, 2006 Nobel Laureate John Mather, and FIU Research Astronomer Dr. James R. Webb.

Mather, senior astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, led his team of scientists "in research that revealed cosmic microwave background radiation confirmed the Big Bang theory to great accuracy." He is the senior scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope set to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018. 

Webb, who is a Southern Cross Astronomical Society honorary member, designed the building and the separate structure to house the new telescope. There will be tours of the observatory and solar viewing. Other activities include Mather’s lectures "History of the Universe, Beginning to End" and "Observing with the new James Webb Space Telescope."

Nov. 13 is FIU Students’ Day with more tours, lectures, and solar and celestial observing. Nov. 14 is Music Day featuring noted musicians Ted Miller, the songwriter who recorded Made In America, Marivanna, Grant Livingston, Jennings & Keller, Rod McDonald, Jim Webb and Tom Barnello.

Rounding out the celebration on Nov. 15 is NASA Day at the FIU Physics Building CP-145 Lecture Hall. Russell Romanella, a NASA engineer for 30 years, will present "Across the Solar System & Beyond: NASA's Current and Future Robotic and Human Explorers."

For event details and public viewing call FIU at 305-348-3670 or 305-348-3964 or visit You can also look at


The fun, annual gathering of pilots who show amazing skill at flying giant model planes has been rescheduled due to a presidential visit. Federal rules prohibit flying model planes while President Obama is in the area.

The free AeroFest will now be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Nov. 16, at AMPS Silver Field, 20044 SW 168th St., 2.4 miles west of Krome Avenue.

Walk among the planes and meet the pilots. Children of all ages are invited at noon to collect candy on the runway after a re-enactment of the WWII Berlin Airlift. The day is all about family fun. Refreshments available for sale and there is a $5 parking donation requested.

For more information, check

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at

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