This guest Q&A is with Dr. Marlene Sotelo who is the Director of Programs and Operations for the Els for Autism Foundation. She has been working with people with autism and other developmental disabilities for over 20 years as a music therapist, special education teacher, and behavior analyst. Marlene is also a professional singer and has written and recorded several songs to raise money for children’s charities.

Hi Marlene! How did you first get involved with the cause?

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I started in the field as a music therapist, traveling to children’s homes to provide intervention over 20 years ago. My journey brought me to the Els for Autism Foundation in 2014 to build a team of professionals and a variety of programs and services to serve people with autism of all ages and abilities.

conference ad (1)We were big fans when we heard of your Autism Innovation & Global Impact Conference happening in April. How did this idea first come about?

The Chairman of our Board, Marvin Shanken, came up with the idea of bringing the best minds in the field of autism together under one roof to promote our mission of the sharing of best practices with the global community. Dr. Michael Alessandri from the University of Miami lead the way in recruiting the speakers and will emcee the 2 day conference along with leading the panel discussion. For more information you can go to elsforautismglobalconf.org

What has been one of your favorite highlights from the work you’ve done with the foundation?

Our GOALS program (Global Outreach Autism Learning Services) has been a great success with families from all over the world coming to our Center for an intensive one -3 week stay that includes an evaluation, program development, training and coaching, followed by video conferencing supervision and support once the family returns to their home country. We have served families and therapists from 13 countries through our global outreach.

We love Ernie Els story. Because of that we highlighted him in our 10 Celebrity Dads Who Have a Child with Autism. What does it mean to you to be involved with his team?

Ernie is amazing to watch on the golf course of course, but the most exciting thing about him, is his incredible connection to people with autism. He has “the magic touch” that can reach even the most challenged individuals. It is an honor to work for his Foundation and help bring the dream of the Els family to fruition.

What’s next for you? Anything fun coming up for the rest of 2017?

We always have something fun and exciting going on at the Foundation which is one of the many reasons I love working there. Our Golf Challenge series finale will be in South Florida this year at the end of October. In previous years it has been in Vegas but since the Center is now open and running successfully, we want our generous and dedicated donors to have the opportunity to see what they worked so hard to build.

We also have the grand opening of the Upper School in August and our Sensory Arts Garden and Pavilion opening in early September.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

We hope you will come to visit The Els Center of Excellence and see firsthand the power of hope, excellence, and a focus on the abilities of people with autism. You can learn more about the center at www.elsforautism.org

Editor’s note: As someone who struggled with autism growing up I was always looking for someone who could be there as a role model. When I first heard of Ernie Els story and later Marelene’s I realized the positive impact they are going to have as role models for those in our community for many years to come. What I love the most about what Marlene had to say above was ‘a focus on the abilities of people with autism.’ They have clearly made this foundation through a labor of love to help our community and I applaud them for their efforts. I highly encourage our readers to learn more about their team from the links above, attend their events and if possible donate back to their cause. – Kerry