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Connor Cares Fundraising Event

Connor B. Sturgis has been mentioned many times by Els for Autism Chairman and Founder, Marvin R. Shanken, as a great person who inspires him. Due to Connor’s commitment to making it better for the autism community and his empowering presence at The Learning Academy (TLA), a Palm Beach County charter school on The Els Center of Excellence campus, he has been made the newest member of the Els for Autism Advisory Board.  Connor is currently employed as a Full-Time Customer Service Associate at Publix, one of the largest grocery chains in the country. This has led Connor to brainstorm on how to connect Els for Autism with Publix through fundraising initiatives.

On Saturday, July 2nd, the first Connor Cares event was hosted at the Publix store where he works. Connor, along with members of the Adult Day Training (ADT) program, were present.  The ADT team was able to showcase ‘Sea of Possibilities’ a microbusiness selling beach-inspired arts and crafts items with proceeds going to support the currently under-construction Adult Services building. The local West Palm Beach News Station, WPBF 25, was on the scene:

You can purchase ‘Sea of Possibilities’ items here:

Make sure to follow ‘Sea of Possibilities’ on Facebook for the latest updates, too!

Grow + Connect + Thrive

When young adults with autism and other disabilities age out of the school system, Els for Autism Foundation® wants to make sure they have a special place to go to, a place to grow, connect, and thrive. Upon completion in 2023, the Stoops Family Foundation Adult Services building will be the location from which the Foundation will deliver programs and services for adults that include:
Employment Training, Support and Placement – providing training/coaching and job placement with corporate and organizational partners. The building will contain vocational training labs focusing on retail, grocery, business and food services, including a café with drive-through service; and a gift shop area for the signature microbusiness, ‘Sea of Possibilities’.

Day Training – to build on each participant’s skills in areas of socialization, recreation, and community involvement to increase independence.
Supported Living – a two-bedroom suite serves a dual purpose as a vocational lab for the hospitality industry (hotel employment) and as a lab for teaching independent living skills
Post-Graduation – support in transitioning to life after school through vocational and independent living skills training post-graduation.

Microbusiness – Creating, marketing, and selling artwork to teach transferable business skills such as communications, customer service, money management, and product creation.
A special thanks goes to the Stoops Family Foundation and the Langenfeld family for their generous donations to cover the construction cost of the building. But the Foundation needs additional donor support to furnish the inside spaces. Additionally, the Foundation has an essential need for a business or restaurant partner to manage the café that will include a drive-through service.
On the days the charter schools are in operation, The Els Center of Excellence® campus welcomes approximately 800 people to campus, including:
• Els for Autism Foundation – staff, interns, clients, support organizations (such as the First Tee), and volunteers
• The Learning Center and The Learning Academy – teachers, school administration, support staff, students, and the student’s family/caretakers
People working on the campus are very excited to have a café service available to them and the café will be one of the important spaces on the campus where adults with autism can grow, connect, and thrive. For more information on donations for the inside spaces of the building or the café partnership, contact Dr. Marlene Sotelo –

Adult Services Building - Cafe Rendering

Adult Services Building Cafe Video

Els for Autism Research Study is Published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Spring into Action Together (SIAT) is an Els for Autism® caregiver-implemented, early education program for children who are 18 months to 3 years of age. In collaboration with the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai, a pilot study was conducted to examine outcomes for toddlers and young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism symptomatology following the SIAT four-week caregiver coaching program implemented by trained therapists. The results, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (JADD), conclude that a pilot study of SIAT improved social communication and language skills.

Through this study, researchers identified significant benefits of caregiver-directed coaching, which offers increased intervention accessibility due to decreased time demands and strategies that are intended to be generalized to everyday environments. The study also found improvement in caregiver knowledge and parental engagement with their child.

A parent participating in the study said, “The Spring into Action program helped our family understand and implement strategies based on our son’s individual needs in regard to communication, play skills, and engagement. The program was designed so that we felt empowered to implement the new skills into our daily lives! Our biggest takeaways were understanding the communication hierarchy, where my son was at, and the next step to help him grow, as well as a daily schedule that he thrived with. Previous to the [SIAT] program, we were not having success with the picture schedule and the SIA program used a manipulative-based schedule that helped him tremendously and so we implemented this into his day after the completion of the program.”

This study was funded by The Seaver Els Institute with support from the Els for Autism Foundation and the Beatrice & Samuel A. Seaver Foundation.

For more information about the pilot study and the SIAT program, contact Dr. Erin Brooker Lozott –

Save the Date for the 2023 RECREATION Conference

Participation in recreation activities is critically important for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders. These various activities and experiences produce emotions of achievement, and enjoyment and promote inclusion, self-confidence, and increased quality of life.
The Autism Innovations and Global Impact Conference: RE-creating RECREATION as a Supplemental Intervention for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder will convene on March 23 and 24, 2023, at The Els Center of Excellence® campus in Jupiter, Florida. Grand sponsors of the conference are Hazel and Marvin R. Shanken.
The conference will focus on demonstrating how recreation can be used as a platform for other supplemental therapeutic interventions. Leaders in recreation programs and services, dedicated to improving the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum, will be featured. The conference will provide tools and best practices for organizations, providers, and practitioners interested in initiating or expanding recreation services to individuals with ASD and other developmental disorders. Topics covered will include recreation activities and experiences in the areas of:

Sports | Fitness |Healthy Living | Wellbeing |Arts | Leisure

Conference participants will be invited to participate in the Roots and Ruts 5K Run/Walk on the morning of March 25, 2023. Registration information will be coming soon.

SAVE THE DATE and plan to attend!
If you have questions about the conference, contact Greg Connors –


The Autism Spectrum Award is an award we have given annually since 2015 to the individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who is voted as having the most representative hallmarks of ‘character, positive, attitude, and contribution. This year, we are accepting nominations until Friday, August 12, 2022. The winner will get to attend the Grand Finale in the Bahamas where they’ll be recognized and invited to join our Advisory Board!

Nomination Link Here:

The History of the Els for Autism Spectrum Award:

In 2014, we received grant funding to create the Ernie Els #GameON Autism® Golf curriculum and pilot it nationwide. The very next year, pilot sites located in our Golf Challenge even cities were selected to host the classes using the curriculum and provide feedback. At our selected pilot site in Texas Els for Autism was introduced to Joshua Deer, an individual with ASD, who was trained to be one of the first Official Program Providers of the Ernie Els #GameON Autism Golf program.  Joshua Deer made an exemplary impact on the autism community through his involvement in golf and hockey. In addition, his family was our top fundraiser for our Golf Challenge Series that year. As a result of these accomplishments, Joshua Deer was the inspiration for and the recipient of the first Els for Autism Spectrum Award.
In 2016, Gloria Mendoza received the award in recognition of her accomplishments with the SAP Autism at Work Program. Gloria was recognized at the Golf Challenge Grand Finale Awards Ceremony and Gala.

In 2017, the nomination process evolved into what it is today – nominations are submitted by the general public and blind voting by a committee of staff, board members, and community partners choose the winner. The new winner is invited to the Grand Finale as well as the previous year’s winner who presents the award., and In 2017,we also began inviting the winner of the award  to join the Advisory Board.

OUR WINNERS – 2015 – 2021


Joshua ‘Deersey’ Deer – Certified Golf Instructor at Iron Horse Golf Course and Assistant Equipment Manager at Lone Star Brahmas

Joshua Deer, or Deersey, was the first Ernie Els #GameOn Autism® Golf Official Program Provider with ASD and to this day, utilizes our curriculum at the Iron Horse Golf Course, where he was hired after winning the Autism Spectrum Award. Whether it’s his placing of inspirational Bible verses on the equipment he works with or his determination to teach our unique golf program to others, he is of great character and he continues to inspire others!

Gloria Mendoza – Project Manager at SAP

Gloria Mendoza was, like many individuals with ASD, frustrated with the challenge of  finding suitable employment. With her tenacity and spirit, even when faced with obstacles, she kept working at it,and found her path through the support of the SAP Autism At Work Program. Ever since then she has traveled through the company considerably and serves as a remarkable friend to her peers at SAP with ASD.


Rachel Barcellona –  Executive Director of Ability Beyond Disabilities Inc.

Rachel Barcellona, too was faced with adversity as she grew up. Her diagnoses of Asperger’s, Dyscalculia (Dyslexia but with mathematics), Dyspraxia (which controls communication and speech) and epilepsy, made it harder for her to be treated fairly in her school-age years. Yet, her positive spirit and ambition has allowed her to compete in pageants, becoming Miss Florida International in 2016, and the year she won the ASA, Miss Southeast International. Rachel also started the Ability Beyond Disabilities Inc. organization, providing a host of therapies and job training to any individual who seeks the services that the organization can provide.


Adam Jones – Barn Attendant at Madison Fields – a Division of the Madison House Autism Foundation

Adam Jones is a humble and proactive individual who has spent close to two decades involving himself in his special interest of horses. Working at Madison Fields, his responsibilities also allow him to be a role model and mentor to other individuals with autism employed by Madison Fields.


Haley Moss – Speaker, Writer, and Legal Consultant

Haley Moss is the first openly autistic lawyer to be certified by the Florida Bar Association. Her interest in seeing her peers empowered is immeasurable through her broadcasts, lectures, and published books.


Jim Hogan – Vice President in Accessibility of Technology at Google

Jim Hogan serves as an elder statesman at Google, and by his example he has been very much the mentor to his fellow employees with autism. His drive to become the best he can be through Google’s accessibility resources and his anti-bullying advocacy makes him an example of the profound potential of individuals on the spectrum.


Isabelle ‘Izzie’ Piwnicki – Intern at Girl AGain

Izzie Piwnicki serves the most misunderstood population of women with ASD. Through Co-Founding Girl AGain, a part of the Yes She Can initiative, women with autism have employment opportunities and vocational training working with the American Girl Doll line. She is also employed by Sephora where she has influenced the business culture in her store with her highly competent practices.

And the person you love could be next!


Please submit your nomination for the person whom you believe embodies character, positive attitude, and contribution to the autism community.

Nominations are accepted through midnight August 12th, 2022.