Local foundation for autism hosts annual gala


The HEAL Foundation hosted its annual gala and fundraiser Feb. 20 at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, where guests ate, drank, danced and went on an auction spree to help raise $136,000 to “help enrich autistic lives.”


Gala guests were welcomed with open doors and an open bar as they lined up for their drinks of choice. They also picked at the hors d’oeuvres in the center of the room, ranging from chips and guacamole to salad and veggies, all in bite-size martini glasses, ensuring attendees still had room for the main dishes off to the side: brisket, shrimp and grits, crab cakes and more.


HEAL founders, husband and wife Bobby and Leslie Weed, later took the stage with their entire family, thanking guests for their attendance and generosity.


Since HEAL began doing fundraising galas, “I’m proud to say we’ve raised over $3 million dollars so far,” Bobby Weed said as the audience applauded. “It’s been wonderful to start this foundation on behalf of Lanier and all the families and individuals we’ve met and everyone that’s supported us along the way. We couldn’t do this without all of you.”


Lanier is the Weed’s 21-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old and is the inspiration behind the HEAL Foundation.


HEAL uses its funds to “Help Enrich Autistic Lives” all over Duval, St. Johns and surrounding counties, by donating grants, iPads and tricycles to local schools and organizations. And as honored guests, students from Westside High School stopped by the gala to strut their stuff with their new trikes, donated by HEAL.


After the special appearance, a lively auction had guests out of their seats, bidding against each other for luxurious prizes, including a large party at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, trips abroad and an original painting by one of HEAL’s gala guests, who also has autism, 21-year-old artist Gentry Gudal.


The live auction’s final total came to $136,000 which was $66,000 over the foundation’s $70,000 goal.


It’s unbelievable how much we raised in only 10 minutes,” Leslie Weed said after the gala, which was only the first of two HEAL events that week. It was followed by Bobby Weed’s Golf Gig, which was sold out with 100 participants.


The total raised for the entire weekend was $400,000.

Leslie Weed said that she doesn’t like to get too analytical in speeches but wanted people to know that before HEAL was founded, one in every 500 children were diagnosed with autism. Later, after HEAL hosted its first gala, the number jumped to one in 250 and today one out of every 40 kids are diagnosed with autism, a staggering figure.


“I went to type with Lanier yesterday,” Leslie Weed said at the gala, when on stage with her daughter, Lanier, who is nonverbal and communicates by typing. “And I asked her, ‘Do you want to type something that I could tell everyone? Do you have a message for them?’”


Lanier typed, “I care to say, HEAL helps us feel human,” Leslie Weed said.


Everyone applauded.


Then, Leslie Weed added, “Lanier said, ‘Thank you for coming,’”



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