As robbie powell left the house for work on a recent morning, he abruptly noticed his yard had turned pink. A flock of flamingos had landed on his lawn in Three Oaks.
This special species of flamingo was of the bright plastic variety, and Powell chuckled at the overwhelming sight. He immediately knew he had been “flocked” by a fellow member of the Adonis Autism Assistance Foundation (AAAF).
The foundation is in the midst of its third annual Flamingo Flocking Fundraiser, which generates grant money for individuals living with autism while raising awareness of autism in our community.
“The more people know about it and the more prevalent it is in front of them, the more advancement is made,” said Powell, who serves on the AAAF board and has been active in the local autism community for the last six years since his son, Cameron, was diagnosed with autism.
Powell is on a crew of clandestine “flamingo flockers,” often venturing out under cloak of darkness to deposit a colorful flock of feathered friends in front yards around Lee County. Anyone can order a friend to be flocked by donating $30 to Adonis. A double flock of 30 flamingos flies out for a $50 donation, and a super flock of 60 is available for $100.
The unsuspecting homeowner, or business owner, who is flocked often chooses to send the flamingos on to another lawn, keeping the festive flocks traveling throughout the month of April, which is National Autism Awareness Month.
“It gives us an opportunity to have a little fun with the fundraising,” said Powell, who migrated his flock to a friend’s lawn nearby.
Powell joined the Adonis board because it helps families like his pay for specialized therapy programs or other autism services. Powell and his wife, Kelly, also founded the “Kids First” special needs ministry at Summit Church and coordinated a local autism conference. He has been a committee member for the Southwest Florida Walk Now for Autism and is co-coordinator of the Golf Fore Autism charity golf tournament.
“I think our community is better than most, but with any epidemic, there’s always room to do more,” Powell said of the resources available to autistic individuals in Southwest Florida.
His son was diagnosed at 20 months old and was able to undergo early intervention therapies at a young age. Now seven years old, he has transferred from ABLE Academy, a behavioral therapy school in Naples, into a mainstream classroom at Rayma C. Page Elementary near the Powell’s home.
“There are good things happening within individual schools in Lee County like Rayma C. Page,” Powell said of the advancement of local autism programs. “The biggest challenge for us has been just continuing to stay incorporated into a typical lifestyle. We’ve always been adamant about making sure our son is treated just like any other 7 year old.”
Powell’s son is at the high functioning end of the autism spectrum and has been helped through various therapy programs. That wasn’t the case for Beth Cameron’s brother, Ian, who was diagnosed in the early 1980s at age 6.
Back then, an autism diagnosis was rare — just 1 in 10,000 children — compared to 1 in 88 children affected by autism today, said Cameron, vice president of Adonis. It was her parents, Richard and Maureen Bashaw, who started Southwest Florida’s first support group for autism in 1985.
The support group eventually led to the creation of the Adonis Autism Center of Southwest Florida, a group home which opened in Estero in 2004 but has since closed. In 2011, Adonis merged with the Autism Assistance Foundation founded by Heidi Falanga. The resulting Adonis Autism Assistance Foundation now awards grants three times a year.
The Richard and Maureen Bashaw Grant provides assistance for autism related services of up to $1,500 a year, while the Andrew D. McBride Grant helps families pay for music, dance or equine therapies.
Dr. Sheba Katz, a local psychologist and Adonis board member, said she appreciates the “homegrown atmosphere” of the foundation.
“A lot of agencies people give to are national and go toward research and political action, which is great, but this is for our community now,” said Katz, who coordinates flamingo flockings in South Lee County. “The impact is more immediate.”
The flamingo fundraiser netted close to $7,000 for the foundation last year, and AAAF is hoping to exceed that figure this year, Cameron said.
“It’s fun for friends and family to flock each other and keep it going,” she said. “Everyone realizes it’s for a good cause. The majority will send a flock on to somebody else they know. Some people really get into it.”
To learn more about Adonis, its grant program or the Flamingo Flocking Fundraiser, visit www.adonisautism.org. Flocking orders may be placed online through the end of the month, with the final flockings likely taking place the first week of May, Cameron said. Orders also may be placed by calling the official “Flamingo Hotline” at