The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Vicky Westra as a Lightning Community Hero during the first period of tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Westra, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Art for Autism.
Since 2007, Westra's vision and strong belief that things can change is bringing hope to individuals, and their families, with autism. Through the nonprofit she founded, the Art for Autism Foundation, and the social enterprise she started last year, Artistas Café, she is providing job skills training and employment opportunities for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Through Art for Autism, Westra is providing art therapy and educational materials for individuals with ASD and their families, and through Artistas Café, she is creating jobs for people who otherwise may not have had a chance to show the world and themselves what they can do. They are learning much more than how to brew coffee; they are gaining confidence, social awareness and communication skills while engaging with customers.
She has taken the difficult task of educating the public that people with ASD can become active, contributing members of our society when appropriate supports are available. Westra's desire to share this breakthrough with the autism community was her inspiration for founding the Art for Autism Foundation.
Begun by members of the Art for Autism Foundation, a non-profit group based in Tampa, Florida, this group is dedicated to exploring art-based therapy and treatment options for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The foundation believes that art therapy offers an invaluable opportunity for children with autism to express their hopes, fears, joys, and dreams.