A taste of the popular New Orleans event Mardi Gras occurred Saturday with a charitable twist outside Bourbon Street in Downtown Fullerton.
Jazz, face painting, a magician and bubbles were just a few of the highlights at Mardi Gras for Autism. Families with children on the autism spectrum gathered for a day of fun to support one another with their challenges and successes.
To parents like Candice Deleon, the mother of a child with autism, this event helped them gain more information on how to deal with the disorder.
“My son Jaden, he is the one with autism. We’ve done a couple of events with A.skate (which encourages children with autism to use skateboarding as a method of socialization) … on Facebook, they posted a flyer for this (the event),” said Deleon.
Jaden pranced around with a Mardi Gras themed crown on his head while his mother spoke.
“Every time we go to something like this it’s just nice for him (Jaden) to be able to interact and just do the different things that are here,” Deleon said. “They make it so that the kids can participate and get whatever they need.”
Many attendees were supporters who have no experience with autism at all. Kim Truong was one of them.
According to Truong, her daughter is not on the spectrum but was enjoying herself at the event. Truong said the event was good for the kids.
Mardi Gras for Autism was created four years ago by Larry Houser, the co-owner of Bourbon Street and the founder and president of Fullerton Cares, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for Fullerton public schools’ special education programs.
Houser said his experience with autism is quite personal. His son Boyd, was diagnosed at 2 years old.
For Houser, Mardi Gras for Autism is about the kids and the families.
“(It’s) an event in a fun environment where kids with autism and typical kids can blend in. What we like to call that is acceptance. We like to educate our crowd and families who aren’t necessarily affected by autism to look and learn,” said Houser.
Houser also said that about 2,000 people were expected to attend Mardi Gras for Autism and that he hoped the event would raise about $10,000.
Many organizations teamed up with Houser for the event to support the cause.
Brian Bartholomew, the owner of Gymboree Play and Music and a member of the board of directors for Fullerton Cares, began working with Houser a year ago through a different event.
According to Bartholomew, when visiting the Gymboree corporation in San Francisco, he was able to get the company to donate bubbles and bubble fans to be sold at the event to benefit Fullerton Cares.
These items were a hit for attendees. Bubbles floated through the air throughout the day.
Swipe4TheKids, an organization that handles processing of credit cards and gives a percentage of funds to local charities and school programs, also partnered with Houser for Mardi Gras for Autism.
Mike Lansford, the former NFL placekicker for the Los Angeles Rams and organizer for Swipe4TheKids and director of sports enhancement for Pomeroy Equitable Solutions, said 30 percent of the funds from processed cards went to Houser’s organization.
“He invited us and he promoted us very well to be a part of this great event, promoting Fullerton Cares,” said Lansford.
Many other booths were featured including Cal State Fullerton’s Autism Speaks U, a club that raises awareness and funds for Autism Speaks.
Ray Sadri, a communicative disorders major and the co-president of Autism Speaks U, showed enthusiasm about CSUF’s participation in the event.
“What I love about it (Mardi Gras for Autism) is how it brings so many different organizations together,” she said.
Right beside Autism Speaks U, another excited bunch of Titans were eager to discuss the new Center for Autism.
Erica Howell, Ph.D., a special education assistant professor, said CSUF is very active in the issue of autism. The newly developed Center for Autism on campus will feature an applied developmental core and an education core that will help those with autism experience success.
By Julia Gutierrez