Family Initiative raises $432,000 at 2024 Autism Acceptance Awards Gala

Annual awards gala honors champions of autism spectrum disorder


FORT MYERS, Fla., (April 29, 2024) – Family Initiative’s 2024 annual Autism Acceptance Awards Gala raised $432,000 to provide family-centered compassionate support, innovative programs and evidence-based therapies to children, teens and young adults impacted by autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The annual celebration topped off Autism Acceptance Month activities and was held on April 29 at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center in downtown Fort Myers, featuring dinner, a live auction and the only awards presentation spotlighting statewide, nominated advocates for autism and families affected by ASD.

“Our annual awards gala is a celebration to honor the passion and dedication of those working tirelessly to support children, adolescents, adults and families of those with ASD, and we are proud to highlight the incredible work they do each and every day throughout our state,” said Co-Founder David Brown, LCSW. “We are grateful for the incredible generosity of our supporters and attendees who sponsored and donated to the gala, ensuring we exceeded our goal of reaching over $425,000 towards programs, services and staffing to continue to reduce the waitlist for Family Initiative.”

“With the latest statistics revealing 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with autism, it’s more important than ever that we continue to ramp up and provide much-needed services to the growing number of families impacted by ASD,” said Co-Founder Anjali Van Drie, MA, BCBA, LCSW.

Family Initiative’s annual Autism Acceptance Awards Gala recognizes and celebrates the everyday champions of the ASD community to promote inclusion, education and empowerment for the ASD community and beyond.

Honorees included:

  • The Believer Award was given to Mia DePasquale, for her positive impact on students and families with autism.
  • The Champion Award was presented to Florida’s Speaker of the House, Paul Renner for helping to positively influence and advance the well-being of children with ASD.
  • The Partner Award was given Tracy Taylor, behavior analyst with Agency for Persons with Disabilities for providing opportunities and access for children young adults with ASD.
  • The Dylan Award was presented to Caroline King, a speech pathologist at Gulf Elementary for her steadfast commitment to students.

Proceeds from the Autism Acceptance Awards Gala will directly support children and families on Family Initiative’s waiting list, the hiring of certified clinicians and free or low-cost community services to help children on the autism spectrum thrive and to reduce or eliminate the waitlist for services. The nonprofit organization offers social skills programs, clinical services and community education for children and families across Southwest Florida.

The Autism Acceptance Awards Gala was chaired by Jessica Van Hart with the support of a committee of parents and community partners. The event’s gold champagne sponsor was Tomahawk Construction, cocktail hour sponsor was City Tavern, live auction sponsor was Van Hart Provisions, entertainment sponsor was EZ Boat Fenders and awards sponsors were Heyer Quality Construction and Paragon Flight Training. The Red Carpet sponsor was Fabri-Tech/Fabri-Tech Outdoor Living, the roaming photographer sponsor was Siesta Pebble, and the silent auction sponsor was JND Mechanical.

VIP sponsors included MacKoul Pediatrics Fort Myers, American Metals Supply, Suncoast Beverage Sales, Golisano Children’s Hospital and Coastal Building Construction. Table sponsors included Independent Marine Surveyors, Inc., Pristine TLC Group, First Horizon Foundation, TR Transportation, Boyle, Leonard and Anderson, PA, San Juan Pools, Florida Sales and Marketing/Super Screen, Sanibel Captiva Trust Company, Barraco and Associates, Inc., Gavin’s Ace Hardware, Johnson Engineering, Hellcat Social, Aluminum Specialties Wholesale, Philly STK guy, Quality Philly Steaks, and Sunshine Health.

Special thanks for the event’s success went to The Island Club at North Captiva, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Mark Loren Designs, MarineMax, Norman Love Confections, Fabri Tech Outdoor Living, MacKoul Pediatrics Fort Myers, and Gavin’s Ace Hardware.

To learn more about Family Initiative, the services they offer and their work in the community, visit or call 239-910-0712.


About Family Initiative

Established in 2015, Family Initiative, Inc. is a Florida-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to supporting children with autism and strengthening their families. Its team of clinicians serves children from compassionate, personalized approach through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Occupational Therapy (OT) services, and offers autism play groups, teen meetings, parent education, community conversations and more. In addition, the organization provides child welfare caregiver training and support through its Family Impact Program. Visit or find Family Initiative on Facebook and Instagram at @FamilyInitiative and on X at @FI_Inc.