About the Board
Constituency Board members meet with CARD staff at board meeting.
We are the CARD-USF Constituency Board. We are your representatives to the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida in Tampa serving a 14-county region. As parents and individuals with autism, we understand the problems and concerns you are dealing with because we are dealing with them too.
We can all still remember how lost and lonely we felt during the process of getting this diagnosis, and afterwards trying to understand how to meet the needs of our children. Having opportunities to meet and talk with other parents of children with autism and related disabilities was like opening a door to a whole new world.
The board is always looking for new members to join us. The members of the Constituency Board shall be CARD-USF constituents or constituent’s family member who live within our 14 county region. Board members will be appointed by the University President on the recommendation of the Autism Society of Florida or other relevant constituency group. Our group meets four times a year with the director and staff of CARD-USF to review CARD activities, assist with events and engage with the community to promote autism awareness.
If you are interested in being considered for a constituency board appointment, please review and submit the *CARD Constituency Board Candidate Form . We have set goals for each year, and work quarterly as a group to develop ways to meet those goals. Each year, we want to understand the needs of CARD constituents from all areas.
We can then advise the administration at CARD-USF on these issues of importance. Our role is to listen to you, be your voice and to coordinate efforts that meet the community needs.
We want to hear from you. We want your input. We want to hear your ideas, concerns and suggestions. Please contact us through the CARD's e-mail and a board member will respond to you directly.
*CARD Constituency Board Candidate Form
Meet the CARD-USF Constituency Board
Matias Ramirez, PhD, Chair
Matias, along with his wife Theresa and their children Martin and Sofia live in Tampa. Martin was diagnosed at the age of 4 with Autism. They know that raising children can be challenging but with the support of family, community, and organizations like CARD no one has to go it alone. In his spare time, Matias enjoys going to the gym with Martin and watching Sofia break boards in Taekwondo and travelling. He has a PhD from USF in Adult Education and is currently the Content and Learning lead for an international software corporation.
Mark Fleming, Co-Chair
Mark Fleming is an autistic entrepreneur who owns and runs a fitness studio in Tampa called Equally Fit. He obtained his Bachelor’s and Masters degrees in Exercise Science from The University of Alabama, where he also joined Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity Inc. and served as the chapters Vice President of Internal Affairs and Membership Educator. He has spent time working in ABA and coaching Special Olympics, where his athletes all won gold at the state competition level. He also currently serves on the Autism Friendly Tampa Advisory Board.
Pam Hillestad, Secretary
Pam is a teacher, coach, and lifelong learner, who spent her teaching career working on U.S. military bases overseas. Her son’s behavioral and emotional difficulties perplexed all the military doctors and it wasn’t until he was in 3rd grade that he received an Asperger’s diagnosis. At the time there were almost no resources available for doctors, let alone families, so everything about their son’s youth was trial and error as well as fear and worry. There was no support system. Raising a child on the spectrum can be incredibly challenging, but Pam and her husband began to focus on their son’s unique abilities, rather than his inabilities, and soon found that he was almost always the only one who noticed a beautiful spider web, a cloud formation, or a glorious tree. Instead of being frustrated that he had to stop every few feet on a hike to notice new things, the family began to enjoy his perspective. He is now a grown man working a fulltime job, married, and raising a family. Pam hopes that through her involvement with CARD not only will she learn a lot, but she will have the chance to offer her own perspective, her support, and her son’s stories with those who are overwhelmed by their child’s diagnosis.
Maggie, with the amazing support of her husband, is raising three children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum. Her boys were both diagnosed the same year when the youngest was 4 and the oldest was 13. It was also the first year of her graduate work in education. Needless to say, it shaped her research. She graduated with her Masters in Special Education with a focus on gifted from USF. This is important because she noticed that there are many students, like her boys, that are twice exceptional and fall in between the cracks, only getting support or services for either their areas of talent or disability, but not both.
Currently, Maggie homeschools her children and is no longer teaching in the schools. Her love for helping children and their families did not end there though. She created a website called All About Sensory to share what she has learned and the resources she finds with parents. Maggie credits how well her boys are doing to an amazing support network of specialists, which she found by asking questions and getting referrals. Her children are also benefiting from participating in a wonderful community of homeschool families. Maggie wants parents to know that they are not alone on this journey and that is why she chose to become involved with USF-CARD.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences”.- Audre Lorde
Tosha Littles is a mother, sister, friend, and passionate advocate. She welcomed her son, in late 2007. Her son was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum a few short years later. An immutable given was woven in the fabric of was now a part of her family's existence. CARD has been a part of that fabric supporting and guiding then and continue to supports their family.
“Bio Coming Soon"
Sandra Worth is the Founder and Executive Director of My Autism Connection (MAC). MAC is a non-profit, member-led organization whose mission is to equip autistic adults with the social skills, skills training, and career experiences to move them towards living their best and most independent lives. She was inspired to form the organization from her experiences of being the mother of an autistic son. Worth, a Certified Autism Specialist, holds certification in SCERTs and PEERS® models, is an educational advocate, and hosts a podcast. When not advocating for autism, she can be found kayaking, traveling with her family, or building furniture with her husband.
Jada Murray currently resides in Seminole, Florida with her two sons Rhett (22) and Zachary (18) . She completed her Bachelors of Science in Business Management and Administration with a Minor in Economics from Indiana University East while working three part time jobs to pay for her college expenses. She is currently Vice President, Private Relationship Manager for The Bank of Tampa in Pinellas County. Her 25+ year career in banking has allowed her to hold multiple management roles in various areas such as operations, retail, credit card and other portfolios ranging in sizes up to $300 million. Since 1995 she has volunteered in different capacities on boards like Birth to Five (Richmond, Indiana) focusing on managing budgets and resources for the education of preschoolers and Sunrise, Inc., a therapeutic horse riding non-profit specializing in therapy for people on the autism spectrum. Other volunteer work has included Junior Achievement, annual financial education seminars to Title 1 schools in the area and multiple other regular presentations focusing on financial tools and educating people on the responsible use of money. She has been guest speaker at St Pete College in Seminole for the Career & Entrepreneurship Center, giving valuable guidance to those working on their business degrees, who dream to have their own business one day.
Jada’s greatest joy has been and continues to be watching her sons develop and grow into responsible, caring young men. Rhett was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 7 after multiple misdiagnoses including bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. Once accurately diagnosed, Rhett, Jada and Zach began a journey of discovery, research and ultimately success in living in a world not designed to allow people on the spectrum to learn and grow in ways they are most comfortable. Losing Rhett and Zach’s father to cancer in 2013 caused the “three amigos” to become closer than ever and through their autism and cancer journeys have become a very tight knit family where nothing can stand in their way! Rhett is currently working at Publix in the dairy department where they continually approach him about becoming a manager. Rhett completed Autobody Collision 1 and 2 certifications through Pinellas Technical College while in dual enrollment at Seminole High School where he finished in the top 10% of his class. He is 8 classes away from his associates in mechanical engineering hoping to fill his desire of following in his father Tom’s footsteps and becoming an engineer one day. Zachary has always been a natural athlete playing multiple sports over the years with his favorite currently being skateboarding on the Pinellas Trail. Zach will graduate high school this year with a 3.67 grade point average with plans to go into engineering like big brother Rhett.
Darcy is an autistic business professional with over 15 years of experience in aerospace engineering and manufacturing. Having served in both technical and corporate roles ranging from Process Engineer to Chief Operating Officer, he brings a unique voice to CARD-USF. Throughout his career, Darcy has worked hard to build a culture of innovation and transparency with the leaders within his organizations, building trust with industry colleagues, suppliers, and the FAA. Currently in his role as CEO of RoC Aviation Services, LLC, Darcy leads a team of engineering and regulatory professionals to support growing industries within the commercial aviation and unmanned aircraft sectors. He maintains membership with FABA (Florida Aviation Business Association), is an FAA-Certified Remote Pilot, and is in the process of becoming an FAA Designee. He has a passion for educating others regarding the value that neurodiversity brings to the world. In his spare time, he serves as an advisory board member of Scientists Inc, an organization dedicated to bringing people together through science. Darcy enjoys supporting the autism and science community through serving on nonprofit boards and volunteering within those organizations.
Nicholas was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3 and was Non verbal until the age of 6. Nicholas has many areas of interest, and has been studying to obtain his Pilot’s license. He has several hours of flight training and will be fully licensed after his studies are completed. He is employed by both Full Spectrum Autism services Tampa as an autism advocate and in their digital marketing department,as well as Lowe's home improvement part time. Nick served as Police chief of the day for the Zephyrhills Police department and has been awarded on several occasions the “student citizen of the month” award from the Zephyrhills chamber of commerce. Nick was also awarded the “Standing ovation” award from the EPNG group of local business owners for his Autism advocacy. Nick is excited to have the opportunity with the team at CARD and is determined to make an unrelenting difference in the lives of those challenged with Autism
Naomi was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and was nonverbal until the age of six. Naomi‘s interest include pastry chef, cyber security and gaming. Naomi graduated college at 17 with a degree in culinary. Then proceeded to graduate high school at 18. Naomi is currently a full-time student at South Florida State College studying radiographic technology. Naomi is excited to have the opportunity to be on the team with CARD And is excited to help bring new opportunities in Highlands County to help make a difference in the lives of those challenged with autism and related disorders.
Megan lives in Lakeland, Florida, with her husband and adult daughter, Amanda. Megan and Bob first learned their child faced significant challenges at 18 months. After ten years of dealing with symptoms that required life-saving intervention, Amanda was also diagnosed with autism. Like many parents, Megan spent years seeking support and resources like PT, OT, speech, IEP resources, behavioral therapy options, doctors and specialists, and the path through the maze of managed health care. Her vocation, working within the nonprofit sector, has helped her identify that the challenges she faced years ago are still the challenges parents face today. Data and personal interactions reinforce that parents feel their most significant challenge when receiving a diagnosis of autism for their child is the lack of available resources. That is why Megan chose to join the CARD constituency board—to help find ways to bring resources like CARD into the community through the nonprofit she serves and its partners. Today, their daughter Amanda thrives personally and professionally as a credentialed laboratory scientist in a large hospital. Megan’s goal is to help parents obtain the support and resources needed to allow their child to experience their best long-term potential.
Annual Report Archive
- CARD-USF Annual Report 1995-1996
- CARD-USF Annual Report 1996-1997
- CARD-USF Annual Report 1997-1998
- CARD-USF Annual Report 1998-1999
- CARD-USF Annual Report 1999-2000
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2000-2001
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2001-2002 (Final year for publishing an annual report.)
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2006-2007
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2007-2008
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2008-2009
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2009-2010
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2010-2011
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2011-2012
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2012-2013
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2013-2014
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2014-2015
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2015-2016
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2016-2017
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2017-2018
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2018-2019
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2019-2020
- CARD-USF Annual Report 2020-2021