When: Friday, April 3, 2020, 6:30 p.m.

Where: The Hilton Rialto, Melbourne

What: Gala event with a Rio-style celebration, drinks, dancing, hors d’oeuvres, entertainment and silent auction to benefit SFFA Spring Forward for Autism

Cost: $125 per person

How: Contact: (954) 214-6781; springforwardforautism.org

Susan Belcher

Susan Belcher, director of Spring Forward for Autism, and Melissa Parker, co-founder of The Parker Foundation for Autism and Child Development, are announcing the 7th annual Illuminate the Night gala event with a Rio de Janeiro style Carnival theme. Inspired by the “festival of euphoria” held in the country of Brazil, this event will feature gorgeous feathered clothing, drum music, decorative masks, cirque-du Soleil style performers, a silent auction, live entertainment and much more.

The fun is for a good cause: to meet the needs of autistic children and their families. There will be a mask contest, and festive attire is encouraged. This event is slated to be “one of the best parties of the year,” while also helping Brevard’s autistic community. One hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit local families with children on the spectrum. Spring Forward for Autism and the Parker Foundation for Autism and Child Development are two organizations dedicated to helping local children with ASD better handle their unique challenges.

Melissa Parker, Mrs. Florida in the 42nd Mrs. America pageant, started the Parker Foundation in 2014 with her husband Ted Parker because she wanted to help give children on the spectrum the kind of skills typical children take for granted. Their mission–to find a way to help autistic children play sports (in a safe environment) has benefited numerous local children by giving them the tools they need to increase their communication skills, create art, make lifelong friends and be better prepared for life.

“I understand the complex emotions that go along with having a child with challenges. There is a need in our community integrate them into society, despite the difficulties that arise while doing so,” says Parker, who is also a mother to a child with autism.

Melissa Parker

Spring Forward for Autism is a non-profit organization that was officially founded in 2015 by Susan Belcher whose son has autism. After realizing the enormous gap in services for Brevard’s underprivileged autistic children and wealthier families with autistic children, Susan started the SFFA. Today, Spring Forward for Autism has a grant program in place designed to help families with children on the spectrum receive special treatments and therapies.

Spring Forward for Autism has raised over $200,000 and has now benefited more than 200 families with autistic children ages 1- 18. In the last six months alone, $28,000 in grants have been given to 14 new families to help with advanced ABA or OT therapies.

“Getting these specialized services is very expensive and many families with autistic children are unable to afford the specialized programs and equipment that can make such a difference in an autistic child’s quality of life. We want to change that,” Belcher said. After realizing the enormous gap in services for Brevard’s underprivileged autistic children, Spring Forward for Autism Awareness became a reality.

Thanks to the advocacy and activism of people like Susan Belcher and Melissa Parker, more of Brevard’s children with autism are getting access to the services they need.

Today, Spring Forward for Autism continues to have a positive impact on families through: evaluations and ABA behavioral therapy, speech therapy, tutoring, educational needs, sensory aids, tools, autism awareness vehicles, guidance and other autism focused social activities for families.

Tickets are going fast this year. Last year’s event sold out, so get your tickets today. For more information about the Spring Forward for Autism Awareness nonprofit organization or The Parker Foundation for Autism and Child Development, or how you can be a sponsor for the “Illuminate the Night” Gala event on April 3th, please contact Susan Belcher at (954) 214-6781 or visit www.springforwardforautism.org or Melissa Parker at (321) 409-4696 or www.theparkerfoundation.com