Shimmering strings of blue, green, gold and red beads dangled from the wrought iron fence enclosure behind Bourbon Street Bar and Grill. A street performer in a colorful suit and eye mask skipped by on stilts and gave children high fives while another played the accordion. A clown with a puppy marionette stopped periodically for children to admire or pet the puppet.
Fullerton Cares Autism Coalition, with the support of Autism Live, Jack FM and Fullerton Foundry successfully brought the Mardi Gras spirit to Fullerton while spreading awareness and educating approximately 5,000 people on autism.
Kids played and shrieked while adults had an opportunity to learn about Autism and connect with the Fullerton community on Saturday, April 7.
The free family-friendly event featured many booths from the community with vendors and public servants, organizations and services geared specifically toward autism as well as other behavioral disorders.
There were also food vendors, bounce houses, face painting and even a game truck.
“It’s an event specifically for autism but really is an event for all kids,” said Larry Houser, founder of Fullerton Cares and co-owner of Bourbon Street. “The attractions that we have here are very sensory oriented and they cross over to typical kids as well. It really is an awesome and inclusive event.”
Houser, whose son, Boyd, was diagnosed with autism at age two, founded Fullerton Cares in February of 2010. Since then the coalition has hosted comedy shows, Mardi Gras carnivals and raised tens of thousands of dollars for local autism organizations as well as special needs and autism programs in the Fullerton School District.
Donations and money raised from the Mardi Gras carnival go to Fullerton Cares. “From there we donate a lot of it to the Fullerton School District,” said Houser. “But we have other programs that we support in North Orange County.”
Among the eclectic array of entertainment ranging from children tap dancing on stage to Paris the deaf and albino poodle performing tricks was the 501st Legion.
The legion is a worldwide fan-based non-profit organization dedicated to the creation and construction of costumes replicating those of Darth Vader, stormtroopers and other Star Wars characters.
The organization is just over 20 years old according to 16 year member Matt Shippley. They do a variety of charity work and posed for photos with children at Saturday’s carnival.
“One of our member’s [sons] has autism. So, it’s something that’s personal to him,” explained Shippley. “I like to think that [we’re] bad guys doing good.”
Shannon Penrod, host of Autism Live manned a booth with Samantha Leone, the shows production coordinator. Autism Live is an online show available on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and more which provides resources, support and hope for those whose lives are affected by autism.
A mother and founder of Friends Club, an organization for autistic children and their families in Brea, graciously thanked Penrod.
“I’m a parent that watches your show every night,” said Irene Garcia. “It has helped my family tremendously.”
Autism Live has worked with Fullerton Cares at Mardi Gras for Autism for about six years. They love the event and the coalition.
“I cry every time I talk about it because I think it’s one of the most incredible events,” said Penrod with tears in her eyes. “I get to go to events all over the place and meet parents, but this is an event that’s unlike any other because this is inclusion. If you look around this is what inclusion looks like.”