Focus on people’s capabilities, not their disabilities. That’s the message behind the Dan Marino Foundation.
"It’s difficult for our children with autism. A lot of people, they see them, maybe they’re doing different things, and people don’t always accept that," said Susan Morantes.
Morantes has a son on the autism spectrum. Susan said Sean had become the man he is today because of the Dan Marino Foundation.
"Sean was diagnosed with autism at four back when a lot of people didn’t know about autism, so it was very difficult to find resources at that point in time. By luck, my husband was able to meet Dan, and ever since, Dan and Claire have been mentors to us," she said.
The Dan Marino Foundation empowers and reduces the over 80% unemployment rate for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. The foundation focuses on creating opportunities leading to employment and independence.
"At the beginning, that’s what he was learning, just how to navigate employment scenarios. My son probably has the most challenges in social activities, so just to be careful not to say the wrong thing to people, not to do the wrong thing, how to talk to people, how to engage people," said Morantes.
The vocational rehabilitation career camp, offered to students ages 14 to 21, is a week-long program that assists with resume writing, job search, career goal development, and leadership skills.
"We’re focusing on self-advocacy, so that could look like learning about the Americans Disabilities Act and how that could impact their career choices or how they even talk to their employers. We also talk about things like transportation and navigating your community. That’s one of the biggest barriers that we see our students face in trying to get employment," said Lauren Ferguson, Director of Educational Services at the Dan Marino Foundation.
Morantes said the VR career camps and other programs offered by the foundation have helped Sean gain independence.
"It’s trying to expose people to a lot of different options that they have in that transition into adulthood during this VR career camp," said Ferguson.
"He’s certainly become more of a self-advocate," said Morantes.
Staff and students at the Dan Marino Campus are required to wear masks.
Individuals who are interested in the vocational rehabilitation career camp must go through their VR counselor. If you’re unsure how to do that, you can reach out to the Dan Marino Foundation at 954-368-6000.
Melissa Marrero at WSFL first reported this story.