Community Voices

Road to Victory fundraiser on March 11 for Northeast Miami-Dade autism center

Victory Center supporters celebrate at the 2016 gala fundraising event. The school in North Miami Beach helps students who have autism and developmental disabilities. Back row from left: Lainie Berman, Amanda Bigham, Tracey Robinson, Logan McDowell, Alexandra Soegaard, John Knight, Shannon Barton, Lindsey Jorgensen, Maria Soto, Tiffany Morhaim and Anita Tomic. Middle row from left: Nina Gonzalez, Tara Loughrey, Leannie Hodgson, Diana Lozano, Jaqueline Barrionuevo and Jasmine Camacho. Front row from left: Nikki Conroy, Andres Tejada-Lalinde, Giovanni Venetico and Annie Isabella.
Victory Center supporters celebrate at the 2016 gala fundraising event. The school in North Miami Beach helps students who have autism and developmental disabilities. Back row from left: Lainie Berman, Amanda Bigham, Tracey Robinson, Logan McDowell, Alexandra Soegaard, John Knight, Shannon Barton, Lindsey Jorgensen, Maria Soto, Tiffany Morhaim and Anita Tomic. Middle row from left: Nina Gonzalez, Tara Loughrey, Leannie Hodgson, Diana Lozano, Jaqueline Barrionuevo and Jasmine Camacho. Front row from left: Nikki Conroy, Andres Tejada-Lalinde, Giovanni Venetico and Annie Isabella. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Rhonda Hill is busy planning the 17th annual Road to Victory gala to benefit students with autism and developmental disabilities. This is her seventh year as chair to help the Victory Center, a school that has helped her son so much.

Hill moved to South Florida in 2008 from Boise, Idaho, to enroll her son at the Victory Center. Now 16, he has spent the past nine years learning life skills.

“From the moment I moved here, I knew the teachers and staff would be my support group,” she said in email. He is doing exceptionally well, she said, learning to care for himself as he enters adulthood.

The gala with a ’50s car theme will be 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at the Miami Auto Museum, 2000 NE 146th St. in North Miami. It is expected to attract 250 people.

Guests at the museum will see rare motorcycles and bicycles, a $2 million Duesenberg, and almost every other kind of vehicle. Included in the huge, eclectic collection are “Hollywood Cars of the Stars” with the largest assortment of cars, planes, helicopters and more from the James Bond movies. There are also Batmobiles and other modes of transportation used by the Dark Knight.

Barry and Judi Nelson, who also had a child with autism, founded the Victory Center in 2000. The school is located on the grounds of the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center, at 18900 NE 25th Ave. in Northeast Miami-Dade.

“We looked at every option available for our son at the time, but there was no school in South Florida to get him the level of education we were looking for,” said Barry Nelson, an attorney and member of the center’s board of directors, in an email.

They said they tried public and private schools and found the only effective program was something called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) with an intensive teacher to student ratio. Encouraged by Michael Alessandri, executive director of the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, the Nelsons started the Victory Center with four students.

The school is now at capacity with 30 full-time students, ages 3 to 22, who have varying degrees of autism and related disabilities. They are from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Victory Center CEO Raquel Pancer said events like the gala “help raise funds for school programs and technologies to better serve the students.” Through special events the school is growing and a new 8,500 square-foot facility is being built to double the center’s capacity.

“Our new building will have more opportunities to expand and improve programs for children with developmental disabilities,” Pancer said in email. “We are excited to watch the construction of our new home and cannot wait for completion.”

Tickets for the gala are $225 per person. Sponsorships start at $1,000. The $12,000 sponsorship level includes dinner with Brian Weiss, author of “Many Lives Many Masters.”

The gala auction includes high-ticket items such as a trip to Paris in business class on American Airlines and a weeklong stay at a luxurious apartment by the Eiffel Tower. For more or to purchase gala tickets, contact Pancer at rpancer@thevictoryschool.org, 305-466-1142 or visit http://www.victorygala.org/.

Lunch with a tenor

Entertainer Don Stansfield was such a hit at the New Neighbors Club of South Dade luncheon in August the group has booked him again. Hear the tenor’s new selection of songs at the next luncheon and program starting 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 8, Devon’s Seafood + Steak at 11715 Sherri Lane in the Town and Country Mall in Kendall.

The cost is $24 by check and reservations are required. Send email to ritafosse@yahoo.com or call her at 786-250-4849 no later than 6 p.m. Friday.

Publicity Chair Linda Doherty said there were many compliments after Stansfield’s last performance for the group. “I know all will enjoy hearing and participating in his medley of new songs,” she said.

The mission of the New Neighbors Club of South Dade is to help residents make new friends and develop community awareness while enjoying fun events. For info, visit http://newneighborssouthdade.webs.com/.

Film to support Barnacle

Pack a picnic and check out James Dean on the big screen in “Rebel Without a Cause” coming up at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 5, The Barnacle Historic State Park, 3485 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove.

The outdoor screening is part of the Starlight Movie Classics program hosted by The Barnacle and The Barnacle Society to raise funds for the historic home and grounds.

This is a free members-only event. You can join The Barnacle Society to get your free tickets at http://www.thebarnacle.org/. Membership starts at $20 and includes movie admission for four people. You can purchase membership online or at the gate the night of the film.

The gate opens for movie night at 6 p.m. with last entry at 7:15 p.m. Low lawn chairs are welcome. Pets need to stay home. Call 305-442-6866 for more.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at christinammayo@gmail.com.

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