Amanda Cathey is Executive Director, and one of the choreographers, event planners, advocates, and pretty much everything behind Halo Dance 4 Autism!
Amanda originally became involved with Halo when Cami Marseilles, the Founder of Halo 4 Autism, asked her to perform at the 2012 Annual Halo Show. At the time Amanda was a choreographer for the Dance Summer Camp Orchesis, as was Cami, and the two immediately hit it off. Amanda laughs and admits that her piece that year was a definite learning experience for Halo Shows as the giant walls she brought for her piece are the reason we no longer allow props in our shows.
After performing in and witnessing the 2012 show, Amanda fell absolutely in love with the cause and felt called to become more involved. Her position quickly grew from volunteer to staff member to managing and planning every component that Halo has to offer - including financial, knowledgeable, and emotional support for our ASD community.
Soon after taking on a leadership role within Halo, Amanda's own two children were diagnosed with Autism. She says that this prior experience with Halo was extremely providential, because without it she does not think she would have been as prepared to advocate for her own children as much as she has had to.
And advocate she does - every single night and day. When not working as a full time dance coach, choreographer and Mom, or working on Halo, Amanda uses her time to advocate for not only her children but all of the Special Needs children of the Murrieta Valley Unified School District. This past year she was elected to be Chairwoman of the District Special Education Para Advisory Committee, a group of five motivated parents that regularly meet with the district school board to help special needs kids in all schools, mainly by letting parents know what resources are available for their children.
Amanda says that this is a huge crux in our system that she is working (tirelessly!) to fix - that until you have a child with Special Needs, resources are not made readily available to you, and even when you search for them, they are extremely difficult to find and access.
It is fitting that Halo Dance 4 Autism's theme of 2021 events is Inclusion, because Amanda says that next year she is taking on the role of PTA President at her children's school. This unfortunately is due a few experiences where her first grade twins have been excluded. But Amanda bravely says that this is the only way to fix it - for parents to get themselves involved on every single campus and make sure their children have an advocate who truly cares. Even when you're tired, a full time working parent, and overwhelmed, you have to push through for the sake of your child.
Amanda says that while she loves her children's school and they have made wonderful improvements, exclusion seeps into the other areas of her family's life as well. Friends, and even extended family members have had a change in heart in the way they treat Amanda and children, which she says she knows is an unfortunate but common experience of families with children who have Autism.
On the other side of this, however, is the Halo has created for her and that she works tirelessly to create for other families like her own. Halo has fostered connections far more meaningful and supportive for her than the ones lost, giving Amanda the energy she needs to continue pushing through daily obstacles.
Both Amanda and Cami's hope for the future of Halo is exactly this - to continue creating an extremely strong knowledge base and support system for families with children who have Autism - one that is easily accessible and easy to understand. Amanda's goal is to have Halo Dance 4 Autism travel and host speaking engagements, so she can continue to fight for and support every parent like herself who has had a strenuous time dealing with the lack of available knowledge, accessible resources, and even friend groups that having children with Autism encompasses.
Many people are so thankful for the impact Halo Dance 4 Autism has had on scholarship recipients and high school participants as well, but may not know who inspired Halo to be created.
Founder of Halo Dance 4 Autism Cami Marseilles met Enrique, a special needs competitive dancer, at the Dance Atak Convention in 2014. Cami was so inspired by Enrique's performance that she reached out to him and his mother Laura, wanting to help Enrique further his dance career and continue to be included in dance competitions and events in all ways possible. After talking to Laura and Enrique, Cami and a few other friends were so motivated they decided to fundraise, help coach, and give Enrique opportunities for dancing that his Mother says would not have otherwise been available to him. Laura says because of Cami and now what has officially become the Halo Dance 4 Autism nonprofit, Enrique has been able to "perform at the Edge Performing Arts Center in LA, attend Dancer Palooza for a week intensive in ballet with Master Instructor Francisco Gella, and graduate from the Debbie Reynolds Scholarship Program. Additionally, Cami also gave Enrique the opportunity to teach hip hop master classes during her summer intensives for her dance team. All of these experiences made a difference in Enrique’s life. As a result, he was able to book with Odyssey Dance Theatre in Utah for a 2-month dance tour and a 6-month job with Blu13 Dance Company in Disney World in their Bollywood Beats show."
Enrique's story has created a ripple effect and continues to inspire Cami, other professional dancers, high school dancers, and volunteers alike to raise money for those with Autism not only to be involved in the dance world, but also to gain the kind of financial help and inclusivity many long for their child to have, in hopes that they will make a big impact on each scholarship recipient, and their family's lives.
Halo Dance 4 Autism was created not only to support those who have Autism, but also to become a supportive community for the families of those who have Autism. We wanted to share this inspiring story of one such Mom and sister, Daileene and Melissa.
Melissa’s son David was diagnosed with Autism September 28th, 2020. Melissa was not initially familiar with her son’s diagnosis, and as many of us have felt, started going into a deep panic. However she quickly caught herself and did what was best for her family - began fighting to get her son the right help and treatments for him, and was soon able to provide him with ABA, Speech, and OT therapies. This of course, as many of us know, requires a large amount of time and dedication from Melissa. Seeing Melissa devote this time and take David to these therapy, Daileene (David’s older sister and Melissa’s daughter) has become quite familiar with David’s Autism diagnosis. But rather than letting that define him, Daileene chooses to see him as the individual that he is and recognizes his gifts - his positive energy, his happy disposition, and more.
Daileene decided to use her relationship with her brother as the inspiration to write her poem for her school assignment this past month, in honor of National Poetry Day. Daileene decided to create an acrostic poem, to represent what she feels is the stereotypical view of a person with Autism, but then what she feels truly represents her brother David whom she loves and adores. Daileene’s poem won the school-wide poetry competition at Corona Elementary, and has gone on to win second place at the district wide level in the Ontario-Montclair School District.
Melissa is extremely proud of her daughter and how she has handled becoming a helping presence and an older sister. Melissa says that everyday is something new that we are working with, but it is so helpful to have organizations like these to help us remember that we are not alone. Daileene says that she wrote the poem because she “wants people to see what we see, not just want they think Autism (or a person with it) is”. We are so proud of you Daileene, and can’t wait to see what the future holds for a brilliant writer like yourself!