BREVARD COUNTY — After a short postponement of its yearly gala, Spring Forward for Autism and the Parker Foundation for Autism and Child Development will return for an adventurous night of Carnival fun this weekend.

“Illuminate the Night: Light Up Rio” will transport guests from Melbourne to the exotic Rio de Janeiro for one night, and this year, a virtual watch party will allow participants to join in from home.

The seventh annual gala is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 at the Hilton Rialto, 200 Rialto Place, Melbourne.

Tickets cost $125 per person to attend and $50 for the virtual viewing code. Sponsorships are still available, and 100% of the proceeds go directly to supporting local families with children on the autism spectrum.

To buy tickets and view the auction items, visit

“Spring Forward for Autism and the Parker Foundation are pioneering a new age of charity events, and you can be one of the first to experience it,” said Julia Barney, director for The Parker Foundation. “We stand with our families as they navigate a challenging future. Now, we need you to stand with our organizations and help guide their future prosperity.”

“The great thing about attending in person is the second they walk in, it is going to be an adventure,” added Susan Belcher, founder of Spring Forward for Autism.

Temperatures will be checked upon arrival and face-coverings will be provided for those who arrive without one.

“The whole atmosphere is going to be like a Rio and Carnival experience along with music,” Mrs. Belcher said. “We have ceviche and champagne and wonderful Brazilian bites. We even have Brazilian chocolates being flown in from New York City.”

From Brazilian specialty cocktails to acrobatic performances and stilt walkers to samba dancing, gala guests have a lot to look forward to. Even those watching online can enjoy the music, watch live interviews and participate in the silent auction.

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey will host a live auction at 8:30 p.m. Performances throughout the night will feature Rainbow Circus, a specialist in cirque-style entertainment, and Samba Dance Ensemble by Fitness on Fifth dancers. Music will be provided by Don Soledad Trio and DJ Lear Bunda.

Attendees are encouraged to dress up and participate in the mask contests where one winner will be chosen for the face-covering contest and another for a masquerade contest.

The gala serves as one of the main sources of funding for Spring Forward for Autism, which helps provide grants to families so that they can afford to get their child diagnosed.

“The thing about insurance companies is that it’s kind of like one of those Catch-22s where they won’t pay for anything unless your child is diagnosed,” Mrs. Belcher said. “If you can’t afford the $2,500 to get the child diagnosed, then you can’t get your insurance to cover anything.

“Even after that, many insurance companies will not pay for the therapies needed in order for the child to learn to be self-sufficient and learn to cope with different struggles that a child on the spectrum has,” she continued.

The Parker Foundation for Autism and Child Development aims to provide autistic children an opportunity to safely play sports, and will cover the costs for a child and their siblings to play, too.

“While Covid-19 brought new challenges for us, we responded with new opportunities for children with autism to play sports, experience social interaction and stay physically active along with their families,” Mrs. Barney said.

She continued, “Thanks to the visionary leadership of co-founders Melissa and Ted Parker, our amazing team of volunteers from our Be A Buddy program, and the resources provided by partner organizations, such as USTA Florida and Love Serving Autism, we continue to positively impact families and enrich their daily life, and for that we are extremely grateful!”

To learn more about these nonprofits, visit and

Associate Managing Editor

I have been a Viera resident for 15 years and a writer my whole life. I love to travel when the opportunity presents itself, as well as try new things.

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