IMPACT Autism was founded in 2009 by four University of Florida college students (Ana Mejia, Ashley Giddings, Tana Bleser, and Emily Gilbert) who were inspired by individuals with autism and wanted to give other students the opportunity to be inspired in the same way through educational, service, fundraising and leadership opportunities to benefit the Gainesville community and beyond.
Our mission was simple: to utilize the volunteerism, passion, and leadership of University of Florida students to directly IMPACT the lives of those in the community affected by autism. At our first meeting, we had barely enough students to qualify as a student organization...but that quickly changed.
Over 600 UF students have become members of IMPACT Autism. We have served more than 100 local families through our Kid's Day Out programs. We also have over 60 professional members, some of whom have shared their knowledge with us and our membership as guest speakers at our meetings. IMPACT Autism continues to grow each day. Our members participate in hands-on service opportunities that are planned and executed entirely by the leadership of our organization, learn from guest speakers who are experts in their fields, and fund raise to directly benefit the local autism community.
We have hosted more than 20 Kid's Day Out respite care events, giving local parents a break while their child interacts and plays with trained volunteers and other children. These events have been hosted at the local YMCA, Westside Park, and in High Springs, FL.
From 2010-2011, IMPACT's main fundraising project was PROJECT COMMUNICATE. We focused our efforts on raising funds to help children with autism who are nonverbal and their families by providing them with a scholarship towards either an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) device or Speech Therapy. Our efforts culminated in the production of an "Autism Movie Night" at UF, showcasing the Temple Grandin Movie. Our fundraising efforts throughout the year, in conjunction with this event helped us raise enough money to help six local families increase their child's communication abilities, providing them with everything from iPads to office supplies and everything in between.
During our second year (the 2011-2012 school year), we continued to host our monthly Kid's Day Out events and expanded our reach in the community. In 2012, IMPACT Autism was invited to the University of Florida's Student Involvement Awards, where we were recognized as UF's Best New Student Organization. Our organization received a trophy and a $1,000 grant to continue our work in the community. In celebration of Autism Awareness Month, in April, IMPACT Autism officers planned UF's first "Autism Symposium in the Swamp," bringing an interdisciplinary panel of local experts in the autism field together for an audience of students, parents, and community members. Our President, Ashley Giddings, served on the planning committee for UF's Stomp the Swamp for Autism, an athletic event at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that supports UF's Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. At Stomp the Swamp, IMPACT Autism won first place for having the largest team in attendance. We ended our second year by being featured in an article printed in the April edition of UF's Health Science Center magazine, The Post.
In May 2012, we obtained nonprofit, 501(c)3 status as we were adopted under the UF Foundation and became a part of UF's Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.
During the 2012-2013 school year, IMPACT Autism is celebrated its three year anniversary! We continued with our monthly Kid's Day Out programs, even hosting a "Kid's Day Out 2 Go" in High Springs, FL to help families outside of the Gainesville area. We played a major role in planning the Fifth Annual Stomp the Swamp for Autism on February 9, 2013, where we helped raise over $12,000 for UF's center for Autism and Related Disabilities. We continued to assist in planning MyFriends events (social events for older children and teens with autism) together with UF CARD. In April 2013, we hosted a Technology and Education in Autism (TEAxUF) conference. We heard from a variety of speakers (a clinician, a neurobiologist, a parent, a teen on the spectrum) who gave 15 minute presentations, all with the goal of informing and inspiring conversations about the future of technology and education in autism.
In the 2014-2015 school year, IMPACT Autism continued its involvement in the Gainesville community. We continued our monthly Kid's Day Out events, with more kids in attendance than ever! We also hosted a variety of MyFriends events, including a Halloween Party and a Thanksgiving Potluck. In the Fall of 2014, we began a tutoring program for children, teenagers, and young adults on the spectrum. Thanks to our student volunteers, we were able to serve a small group of students in the local community who needed help with school material. In February, our officer team and members helped put on another successful Stomp the Swamp for Autism fundraiser for the seventh year in a row. The money that we raised for UF CARD went towards creating safety boxes for constituents to help address safety concerns for people with autism.
Throughout the 2015-2016 school year, IMPACT Autism stayed busy keeping up its multiple projects and continuing to have a strong presence on the UF campus. We kicked off the year with a trip to the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo with the MyFriends social group. Our Kid's Day Out events remained a success, although we did experience the coldest KDO in history in January 2016 (thanks to the volunteers who stuck it out in the cold!) Our tutoring program continued to grow throughout the year. On February 7th, we hosted the Eighth Annual Stomp the Swamp for Autism Fundraiser and had record attendance.
What a busy few years this has been for us! But we aren't finished quite yet...
We have BIG ideas for the 2016-2017 school year and beyond, and we are eager to share these with you, our volunteers, parents and community supporters. There is no way we could accomplish our goals without your support, so we urge you to stay tuned for what's to come.
IMPACT Officer Team (2010-2011):
IMPACT Officer Team (2011-2012):
IMPACT Officer Team (2012-2013):
IMPACT Officer Team (2013-2014):
IMPACT Officer Team (2014-2015):
IMPACT Officer Team (2015-2016):
IMPACT Officer Team (2016-2017):