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Eagle seeks funding for Cape autism facility

January 11, 2018
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Cape Coral and Lee County are growing at a very quick pace. Yet, there are few resources for people with autism and their families to go to get the help they need.

But if State Rep. Dane Eagle, R-77, and Cape Coral city Councilmember Jessica Cosden have their way, the city will have somewhere for those in need of services to go.

Eagle has made an appropriations request for a group called Family Initiative, a non-profit organization which works within the Southwest Florida community to support children and families impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The organization is seeking $102,000 from the state Legislature for the Southwest Florida Autism Center in Cape Coral. While based in Cape Coral, the group currently meets on Saturdays at Christ Community Church in Fort Myers off Colonial Avenue.

"There are no services available for families for children on the spectrum. This allows them to have children come in and play with others and help with their developmental and communications skills and it gives parents the opportunity to do what they need to do," Eagle said. "It would give them a permanent place to call home."

Eagle went to the church on Saturday to meet with the parents to get an idea of what they needed and to play basketball and soccer with the kids.

Dave Brown, president of Family Initiative, said he wants to create a community where families with children who are affected can have a place to come to in a supportive environment, not to mention somewhere they can go to daily.

"When parents receive the diagnosis for one of their kids, it's a really impactful moment. Most parents aggressively figure out what they need to do," Brown said. "We want to hub for them to come to receive support, gain access to information and connect with providers."

That hub is expected to be located on the corner of Pine Island Road and Skyline Boulevard.

Brown said Eagle has been a great champion for their cause and they reached out to him with the idea.

"I think he did a great job of listening to the parents. Many of them are constituents of his and ever since he has been amazing to work with, a huge advocate and went to Tallahassee to see what he can do," Brown said.

Getting the money is one thing, getting the word out after that is another. Brown said he will try to do that and help other organizations that have the same mission.

"It's not easy for non-profits to gain footing and amplify their message and get the word out to families seeking help," Brown said. "We want this center to be an incubator for other non-profits that want to serve the same population and share their mission."

Family Initiative works with children between the ages of 5 and 16 and features playgroups, art and improv classes, parent groups that offer free training sessions from experts, and ASD Band Together, a partnership between the Lee County Sheriff's Office and Family Initiative.

Cosden mentioned Eagle's request in her closing comments during Monday's regular City Council meeting at city hall and asked that a resolution be made for Council to show its support for the organization to be voted on at the next meeting on Jan. 22.

Cosden also has a vested interest in the initiative, since she has a daughter who takes part.

"They are looking to expand and Cape Coral would be a perfect location because right now they're no services for autistic kids in Cape Coral. It's the biggest city, probably with the most autistic children, so we sorely need this," Cosden said.



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