Some boats can be considered puzzling. Ilene Perez and Carlos Galindo’s boat certainly is – figuratively. That’s because they’ve been working hard to wrap the largest vessel in their TowBoatUS Islamorada fleet, a 32-foot Ocean Master boat, with the signature look for autism awareness; a puzzle, coming together piece by piece.
If you’re asking, “why?” It’s because April 2 is National Autism Awareness Day and Ilene’s 17-year-old son, Leif Diaz, is included in the estimated one in every 44 children that have the disorder, according to data from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention. The CDC also notes that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls and that the disorder does not show increased or decreased impact based upon ethnic, socioeconomic or racial groups. These are facts the family wanted to bring awareness of to their local Keys community and beyond.
Ilene and Carlos have owned and operated TowBoatUS Islamorada for six years. Together, they’ve been helping local boaters put any puzzle pieces in place when it comes to needing on-water assistance such as refueling, jumpstarts, emergency towing, and more. Now, the family is excitedly bringing together their profession at TowBoatUS and their passion for supporting the autism community.
“The puzzle imagery for autism awareness represents the complex nature of this diagnosis,” Perez said. “Each unique puzzle piece reminds us of how every person with autism is different. Just like all the moving parts on a boat, there are many things to learn, to consider and to work towards once a loved one is diagnosed with autism. It’s a challenge that requires community and it is so rewarding to see awareness and sensitivity to this topic move forward by leaps and bounds.”
One unique and local support system close to the family’s heart is Island Dolphin Care. The organization provides animal-assisted (dolphin), motivational, and educational programs to children, adults with special needs, and their families and caregivers. Island Dolphin Care has developed a program specifically for participants with autism, filling a need for alternative approaches to this unique diagnosis. Ilene and Carlos will be donating a portion of the fees from each tow they conduct during the month of April directly to Island Dolphin Care to help others utilize the resources that Leif has benefited from.
"We are proud that Ilene and Carlos are using their boat as a platform to bring attention to an important topic like autism awareness,” said John Condon, BoatUS vice president of Towing Services. “They are constantly out on the water and are known by so many boaters in their community that will know as to why their boat looks a bit different. It’s sure to get people thinking.”
A membership with BoatUS takes the “puzzle” out of boating and makes troubleshooting easy. A team of professionals, like Ilene and Carlos, are the service of boaters to assist when the unexpected happens. Boaters get to work with experts who are committed to serving their local communities, whether it is helping spotlight an important local cause, or simply lending a hand when boaters on the water need help. To learn more about how to support local autism awareness with Island Dolphin Care, click here.