FEAT was founded out of a need for awareness, education, and support regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder in Southside, Virginia.
Co-Founder Mandi Calhoun found herself in uncharted territory in 2014 when her son Bailey was diagnosed with Autism just after turning 4. At one of Bailey's many appointments, Mandi and her husband Brian, were told by a social worker at Duke University Hospital that their family would need to relocate from Southside Virginia to an area that had services to meet their son’s needs. Brian was a business owner in Southside Virginia so moving was not an ideal option. They spent the next several years driving 3 hours a day round trip, 5 days a week for their son to receive speech, occupational therapy, and ABA therapy.
In 2016 Mandi joined forces with Bailey’s preschool Director, Shannon Facchina to form FEAT. They immediately began to bring trainings to the area in order to educate families and emergency workers on how to recognize and work with individuals on the spectrum. to support families and educators. Community awareness also became a large part of FEAT’s mission. Activities like Sensory Santa and Autism Family Night at Parrish Pumpkin Patch soon became annual events for FEAT.
FEAT was awarded a grant in 2021 through Microsoft’s Community Empowerment fund to start an inclusive employment program for the area. FEAT partnered with Mecklenburg County Public Schools to launch their program LINCS, Learning in Network of Community Support. Several area businesses jumped on board, welcoming juniors and seniors that were part of the Life Skills Program into their workforce. The program just completed its second successful year and continues to grow.
In 2023 FEAT was awarded a grant through ChangeX, supported by Microsoft, to start a Buddy Ball Program. Buddy Ball is a non-competitive sport for individuals with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities. It allows them to play sports regardless of their disabilities, teaches teamwork, and promotes self-esteem, physical fitness, and social skills. The first Buddy Ball season kicked off Spring of 2023, providing an opportunity for over 100 children and youth, both typically functioning and special needs, to come together to participate in an organized sport.
Families Embracing Autism continues to strive to meet the needs of the community. In June we announced plans for a Special Needs Community Support Center set to open late 2023. To learn more about this project visit our Center Page.
FEAT is fully funded through donations, fundraising efforts, and grants.
We would not be able to provide any of these services at little to no cost without the support of donors and our community. If you would like to find out more about how you can support, visit Ways to Give.
Families Embracing Autism Together is a non-profit organization that works to partner with area families and educators in order to promote community awareness and provide free education, training and resources to those impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder and other types of disabilities in Southside Virginia.