On Sunday, March 4 more than 20,000 people, including individuals with autism, their families and friends attended the 12th annual Miami-Dade County Walk Now for Autism Speaks at JC Bermudez Park in Doral, Florida. So far, the Walk raised more than $600,000, all of which will support Autism Speaks’ work, both locally and nationally fund innovative autism research and family services, to increase awareness about the growing autism health crisis, and advocate for the needs of individuals with autism and their families in Miami and beyond.
The event kicked off with grand fanfare as DJ Gary Gore welcomed participants and kept them energized with dance performances from local studios Creative Praise and Trendz Dance Performance. “Zumba for Autism,” led by Miami Lakes K-8 Center, got everyone warmed up and pumped with the popular workout. Touching performances from teens with autism included Daniel Vega, who moved the crowd with his awe-inspiring rendition of the National Anthem. Sophia Aprano and Joel Vazquez both sang solos and Nikolas Teodorobic sang “God Bless America.”
Event emcees included Antonio Mora from CBS 4, Sandra Peebles with Univision 23, and Orlando Leon from Clear Channel’s 103.5 Mega. Autism Speaks president, Mark Roithmayr, provided some encouraging and inspirational words about making a difference and being here to help fight for those and their loved ones who struggle with autism every day.
Local government and city officials were also on hand to show their support. A first for the City of Doral, Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez handed over the keys to the city in honor of the Walk. Also in attendance were Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, Superintendent of Schools Alberto M. Carvalho, Congressman David Rivera and Commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Rebecca Sosa and Joe Martinez.
A VIP tent also housed a who’s who of telenovela stars, including Mariana Rodriguez, Jeanette Lehr, Jorge Consejo, Ismael La Rosa and more.
Walk Chair, Manny Gaunaurd; Logistics Chair, Wilson Cristiancho and Corporate Chair, Albert Lopez along with the rest to of the Walk committee did an outstanding job working tirelessly with the help of more than 400 volunteers to make sure the day went as smooth as possible. As the presentation wrapped up, walkers were eager to make their way to the starting line. Not soon after, winds gained momentum and clouds formed as some walkers finished their trek while others were just halfway through. When heavy showers followed, the crowd ran for cover under tents and some were already in their cars loading up, which led to an abrupt ending to the day’s events.
Despite the weather, the resource fair was heavy with traffic as families worked their way around to check out some of the service providers and information booths such as Kinetic Kids Therapy, A New Way Day Services, and the UM Mailman Center. Local sponsors included Sedano’s, Brockway Moran & Partners, Baptist Health, IMUSA USA, MasTec, Total Bank, MBAF, Eco Refurbishing Solution, BDO and South Florida Ford, who encouraged participants to take photos at the Walk and post to South Florida’s Facebook page where $10 was donated to the Walk for each uploaded photo. Plenty of activities were on hand for kids to enjoy including inflatable bouncers and even a petting zoo.
Overall, the event was a success providing families and friends a chance to unite, make a difference for those affected by autism and help increase autism awareness one by one.