HEAL Foundation gives voice to local autism community

Annual gala and golf tournament to be held Feb. 22-23


To further its mission of “Helping Enrich Autistic Lives,” the HEAL Foundation will host its two annual events, the HEAL Gala and Bobby Weed’s Golf Gig, Feb. 22-23 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The first of the two events, the gala, will be held Thursday, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the TPC Clubhouse, and will feature renowned performance painter David Garibaldi, in addition to live and silent auctions, music, dinner and drinks. Bobby Weed’s Golf Gig will take place the following morning, Friday, Feb. 23, at 8 a.m. at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valley Course. Players will be treated to a light breakfast before the tournament begins at 9 a.m. Proceeds of both events will benefit the HEAL Foundation, which funds various organizations and programs that support the local autism community, and tickets can be purchased online at www.healautismnow.org.

“It’s just a fun, two-day event, raising funds,” said Leslie Weed, who co-founded HEAL in 2004 with her husband, Bobby Weed. “One in 38 school-age children have autism, which is an epidemic. It’s a huge crisis, and we’re really the only foundation in our area that does what we do. Our phones never stop ringing with mothers in tears.”

The Weed family has experienced the crisis of the autism “epidemic” firsthand, as their own daughter was diagnosed with the condition as a toddler.

“My daughter Lanier was our inspiration (in founding HEAL),” Leslie Weed said. “She was developing normally, and then had an adverse vaccine reaction and was sucked into the abyss of autism at around the age of 18 months. She stopped walking and talking, and she still has not spoken since.”

Now 19 years old, Lanier Weed’s voice remained silent for years, until she one day shocked her family by typing out her thoughts on an iPad.

“Her cognitive skills were not damaged,” Leslie Weed said. “Her motor skills were, but because of what you see, you think the entire person is damaged. It was quite a miracle.”

Finding hope in this revelation, Weed decided to start HEAL’s latest initiative, iHEAL, to help others with autism find their voices. Thus far, HEAL has donated 300 iPads for use in Exceptional Student Education (ESE) classrooms throughout Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties.

 “The students all type almost in prose,” Weed said. “And they’re not angry, they’re just grateful.”

Another initiative HEAL is currently planning is the construction of five special needs parks—one in each of those five counties.

 “We’re going to try to find existing parks and add on to those parks special needs parks,” Weed said. “There aren’t any in Jacksonville, unbelievably.”

The idea, she explained, is to have one park where parents of both typical and special needs kids can bring all their children to play safely, and without having to travel too far from home. With the help of generous donors, Weed said she is hopeful that the first park will be done by 2020.

“We have a fabulous community here that really has embraced our kids,” she said. “We’re very lucky, and we’re so unbelievably appreciative of the people who continue to support us.”