Six years ago, Larry Houser received news that would change his life: His son Boyd was diagnosed with autism.
Houser recounted his emotions on that fateful day.
“It was the only time where I stood in shock and felt sorry for myself,” Houser confessed.
Despite the blow, Houser is one of many parents dealing with a child diagnosed with autism.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 68 children were identified with autism spectrum disorder in 2012. These numbers have remained relatively stable since.
Because of this statistic coupled with determination to help other families, Houser founded Fullerton Cares in 2010.
The organization helps spread awareness and support to children and families affected by autism though Houser set out to make the organization stand out.
According to the latest report by the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, schools play a vital role in evaluating and serving children with ASD.
The Fullerton Education Foundation acts as a conduit between local organizations and businesses for developing educational programs for the school district.
It’s through this channel that Fullerton Cares changed the way children affected with autism learn.
Though each individual is different, one of the difficulties children with autism face is communication. However, technological advances have helped fill in the communication gap for many children.
“They are truly amazing,” Hilda Sugarman said, president of the Fullerton Education Foundations. “They’ve donated money so we can buy technology and develop programs.”
Sugarman, who’s also on the board for the Fullerton School District, explained how funds raised by Fullerton Cares played a huge role in modernizing education.
“They’ve donated iPads, laptops… tools that have been proven to help children with autism,” Sugarman added.
A sensory garden was built in 2013 at Commonwealth Elementary School. The garden was built as a safe-zone for children with special needs.
A mother of three Tiffany Hofkinson said, “They do amazing work by helping families affected by autism. I am so blessed.”
Hofkinson has three sons with autism. Two of her sons attend Golden Hills Elementary School where they have benefited from work done by Fullerton Cares.
“They donate thousands to help these kids and for that we are so grateful,” Sugarman added.
Fullerton Cares has donated thousands of dollars to the school district, but credits their success to the Fullerton community.
“We would not be here were it not for their support,” Houser said.
Fullerton Cares holds several events and fundraisers throughout the year to help raise money. One such event is Mardi Gras for Autism held every April.
The family-friendly event features inclusive activities such as face-painting, dancing, and cooking.
The event was first held inside the popular Bourbon Street Bar and Grill but has since spilled over to the neighboring hotspot The Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen and the back parking lot.
The event grew over the years to include sponsors and vendors from the Fullerton community.
Mardi Gras for Autism is free for the public. This year’s, it will be held on Saturday, April 16 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bourbon Street Bar and Grill.
Since its inception Fullerton Cares has changed the conversation surrounding autism. It is not just an organization that seeks to spread awareness but also one that seeks acceptance and understanding.
Houser said, “I was so consumed by trying to save the world when all I needed to do was focus on my community.”
For more information
about Fullerton Cares or Mardi Gras for Autism, visit their website.