Austism Awareness 2021 proclamation

The City of Brawley honor groups who helped families and patients with autism Wednesday, April 28. All individuals in this picture were vaccinated prior to this event.

BRAWLEY — As Autism Awareness Month comes to a close Pioneers Memorial Hospital, Best STEP Forward, Imperial Valley Respite Inc., and the City of Brawley moved to honor all who support the autistic community and their families Wednesday, April 28, at Pioneers Memorial Hospital.

Mayor Luke Hamby gave a proclamation at the beginning of April for Autism Awareness Month and repeated his words along with handing a physical copy of the proclamation to PMH CEO Larry Lewis. Present were members and the parents of Best STEP Forward, IV Respite, and PMH board trustees.

Gloria Brambila wanted to have a proclamation given to not just the hospital, but to all who help the autistic community. Brambila, in her words, is just a parent wanting to make a difference and has been pushing for proclamations for autism awareness in the Imperial Valley for four years. She pushed for the use of the blue lights as a sign of support for autism four years ago in cities to bring a positive light to the cause. This month PMH had a sign and bright blue lights on display for Autism Awareness Month.

“My mission is to speak up for those who can’t or won’t and for those hardworking parents who don’t get enough credit,” said Brambila. “I’m about doing the right thing, that’s why I feel it’s important to advocate for those who do what they can best for our children.”

Brambila said that all who work with the autistic community need to be recognized for the work they do. She added that parents need to know that these programs are countywide, not just in single cities. Brambila said she will continue to push for that knowledge to be out there.

Wednesday's proclamation and recognition ceremony were just one part of that movement.

Hamby said he was happy to see the community that surrounds people with autism and all the support that they put into helping them and their families.

“This year was really an eye opener for me to the people who are working hard on behalf of families who are challenged by autism. It’s a beautiful community of people that are compassionate and inclusive,” said Hamby. “To see in our community the way people rally around people like this is neat to see.”

Best STEP Forward Founder Jacqueline Riddell told her story about being a paramedic for 10 years in the Valley and in San Diego before having to quit after her son’s autism diagnosis. However, she did not give up and pushed for her child to be included, which blossomed into the organization she helps run today along with other parents of autistic children. Riddell said to hear the diagnosis, is the end of a dream, dreams of a normal life a parent hoped for their child. Then, there are changes to tackle the challenges, which Riddell did not give up on.

“We are mothers who gave up so much for our kids’ success, for our kids to be accepted, for our kids to be included,” said Riddell.

All gave thanks in particular to Katy Alcantra-Santillan, CEO of Imperial Valley Respite, for the work she has done to help the autistic community. IV Respite works with families who need temporary in-home assistance to help and care for a mentally disabled loved one.

Best STEP Forward actually benefitted from a donation from Alcantra-Santillan's business during the dissolution of Sonia Corina Inc. in 2020 and has moved forward with its plans in the four months since then thanks to her.

Alcantra-Santillan has had her own experiences with the IV Respite and her own family, remembering how hard it was to find help or to get help years ago. She was proud to see how the community has come together at PMH and in the Best STEP Forward Program and said she plans to continue to put her support behind the group.

“All these young mothers right here are fighters, they are warriors, and they are pushing this old lady up to the front for what I fought before and couldn’t accomplish before because there was a lot against special needs,” said Alcantra-Santillan. “Now they are making it and I will be behind them.”

Though April has ended, autism awareness does not just stop with the end of the month. Both Hamby and Riddell said for families, autism is year-round and lifelong.

“If we can be those pieces of the puzzle, then we can fit into that big puzzle,” said Alcantra-Santillan.

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