Today I had a meeting with Marc Garica, President and CEO of Visit Mesa. Marc has had a long history of working with different cities to increase tourism for their businesses and communities. Now he is at Visit Mesa and is making groundbreaking changes to Mesa’s tourism department that will reverberate throughout cities across this country.
It started with one person…
Marc’s son was diagnosed with autism at 14 months old and it rocked his world. He became focused on the autism community as a whole and strives to make a more inclusive place for autistic children and their families. As most of you know businesses are usually happy to have autism friendly times and dates where they host events for us. Things like “Autism night” or “Autism friendly hours”. Marc wants to do away with that… he wants every night, every time, and every day to be autism friendly. He wants every hotel, attraction, and restaurant to have staff who understand autistic people.
It started with one business…
So Marc set out to make change by setting an example and Visit Mesa became the first destination marketing organization to receive a “Certified Autism Center” designation from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
So when I first heard this announcement I remembered thinking… that is great… but what does that mean. How does a marketing department getting designated as a “Certified Autism Center” help my child or my family? This is what I asked him when I met with him today and his answer blew me away.
It became an ask…
After they got certified what they did was they created a campaign asking other businesses in the community to join them. They asked their parks and rec department, their fire, and police, their restaurants, hotels and their attractions to become autism friendly and to go through the certification process as well.
It has become a movement…
Mesa aims to become an autism family friendly destination and thanks to Marc and his mission they are well on their way. So far over 40 businesses in Mesa have been designated as “Certified Autism Centers”. 40!!!! That is amazing.
Imagine a city where you can take your family to the ball game, to the movies, to the restaurant and imagine that you are surround by people who have an understanding of what autism is and have dedicated themselves and their companies to be inclusive and accepting of our situation and understanding of what our children are going through.
It is happening.
It is happening here in our backyard.
It is happening because one person who could… did.
Marc will be the first to say… “It’s not one person who did this.”
But as I see it… it is.
Marc, you have moved a city towards inclusion and with that others will follow. States will follow and this country will become more accepting of our children because of this movement you have started.
I will always be thankful for people like you, who see a need, and work to fill that need.