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Helping Families Find Their Way

Helping Families Find Their Way

by Molly Murphy, Communications Specialist, Family Initiative Incorporated

At the age of two and half Amanda Stachler was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Her parents, Julie and Matt suspected prior to her formal diagnosis that she was on the spectrum from earlier signs such as her lack of eye contact and delays in language.  For nearly 13 years since the diagnosis, they experienced long waitlists, inconsistent services, minimal structured programs and a lack of family support while looking for services. In the Southwest Florida region, families like the Stachlers, face a difficult and frustrating process to get the services and programs they need. Applying for services through Medicaid Waiver, a long term program for those with certain disabilities, comes with lengthy paperwork, home visits, and pending approvals.

It wasn’t until the family heard about Family Initiative Inc. when they began to find what they were looking for. Amanda has been attending Family Initiative’s playgroup on Saturday’s since April 2017. The playgroup has benefitted not just Amanda, but the entire family. Family Initiative creates a safe place for Amanda, but also offers a parent group which has helped bring families together with those in similar situations. This has created strong bonds between parents creating self-made support for these families. Julie also mentions how Family Initiative has given her the time to invest in interpersonal relationships in her own life. These important relationships started taking a backseat in her own life when Amanda’s development called for higher care.

The addition of the Autism Navigator position in the past year has benefitted families immensely. The core function of the Autism Navigator is to support ASD families, conduct training, and provide networking services bringing families a range of providers and information.

Since the Autism Navigator position was put in place, the family has done nothing but endorse what the Navigator, Anjali Van Drie has done for them and so many others. Amanda would have been approaching 16 years of age, and soon after adulthood, without receiving the consistent clinical services she needed. It was not until their meeting with Autism Navigator that the Stachlers were able to gain resources to obtain services through the Medicaid Waiver and become aware of many other supports available for their family. Further, they finally feels as though they have reached a place of comfort because there is a resource to contact about any uprising issues or related concerns.  Julie states, “It’s such a great reassurance to know we have person we can trust and turn to whenever we have a question or need help with anything-not just for Amanda, but for our whole family.” Julie shares many of the other families who she has met through Family Initiative share this sentiment-we have finally found someone who takes the time and effort to truly learn about us and what is best for our kids.

Anjali shares this exactly what the intent Family Initiative had when creating the position, “Our goal is to help families grow and connect them to the resources they need and deserve.”


This summer, Florida Weekly has graciously allowed us, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to spotlight the nonprofit organizations funded through the Foundation’s 2018 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked these grantees to share their stories. We are pleased to partner with these change-makers.

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit


Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!