This year I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the Mississippi Center for Autism and Related Developmental Disabilities’ (mscentersforautism.org) 2019 annual fundraising event.
The event kicked off on July 27th with a golf tournament at Shell Landing Golf Club. Anthony Montgomery, the on-course tournament director, said 22 teams of 4-5 players participated in the golf scramble this year. One member of each team was either a retired NFL player or sports agent making this experience even more memorable for the participants. In addition, prizes were given for the closest to the pin and the longest drive. There was even a “Hole in One” vacation package! Unfortunately, the day ended with that prize unclaimed. Maybe next year!
Saturday evening’s event, An All White Affair, was held at The Strand Event Center in the Scarlet Pearl Hotel and Casino. The room, bathed in soft light and featuring all white table linens, had a monochromatic, yet elegant vibe. Guest attire, also white, blended seamlessly into the space putting full attention on the tall colorful Autism Awareness table centerpieces. Throughout the evening guests were entertained with an electrifying performance by Unfazed Show & Band (unfazedmusic.com). The stage also welcomed a very talented, local teen, Riley Johnson (check out her Instagram at RileyJMusic), who gave a beautiful rendition of Alicia Key’s “If I Ain’t Got You.” A silent auction featured bidding opportunities on what many people would consider once in a lifetime experiences such as tickets and accommodations to the 2020 Kentucky Derby, Salmon fishing in Vancouver and Wrigley Field rooftop seats to a Cubs game as well as autographed sports memorabilia and more.
On Sunday morning an inspiring praise and worship service was held at the Biloxi Civic Center. Hosted by the Praise Temple of Biloxi, Pastor Jakavious Pickett said the service was meant to not only support autism awareness but offer many of the out of town guests who were here for the event an opportunity for worship. Pastor Natasha Pickett began the service by leading the uplifting praise and worship. Guest speaker, Pastor Michael Williams, then gave an inspiring message of knowing your identity and who God created you to be.
The weekend came to a conclusion at the Civic Center in the afternoon with the Sunday Inspirational. Master of Ceremonies, Ron Meyers (www.ronmeyersproductions.com), effortlessly commanded the stage as he transitioned the audience through multiple speakers and performers. Dr. Kenneth M. Davis of the Tabernacle Ministry Baptist Church gave the event Invocation. The first performers, Little Tabbers Children’s Choir, were as adorable as they were talented. Mrs. Leslie Johnson of the MCARDD Board of Directors then spoke about the center and introduced a video that highlighted MCARDD’s summer program. She then introduced me, Amy Nielsen, of the Big Abilities Blog and Podcast. I shared my son’s autism diagnosis story, the importance of early intervention, how ABA therapy has helped my son thrive, and my hope to help shift the mindset of those impacted by autism into a more positive and proactive approach. Dr. Alfred McNair, President and founder of MCARDD, took the stage as well as the Honorable Andrew “Fo-Fo” Gilich, Major of the city of Biloxi. Next, The Johnson Family delivered an uplifting performance and message of hope. As a family impacted by autism, the Johnson’s found music to be the key to unlocking their autistic twins strengths. The audience was also treated to a captivating performance by the Nelon’s. This talented family is a blend of gospel, acappella, hymns, Americana, folk, and inspirational music. Dr. Cameron Lewis and Dr. Chris Hook then took the stage, as they presented MCARDD with a donation followed by introducing key note speaker, Kim Fields. The theme of Kim’s inspirational message was that of the importance of passion and a foundation. She pointed out that MCARDD was blessed because the organization already had a solid foundation and was supported by people who already had the passion. She did a fantastic job of encouraging the audience to continue to “find a need and fill it.”
In closing, it was an honor to be a part of this event. Terra Dickey, the MCARDD Executive Director, has clearly put together a dedicated and talented team which not only succeeds in raising funds for the center, but also in uniting and uplifting an entire community!