Sports program for kids with developmental disabilities launching in Central Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. — A new sports program started in Virginia Beach for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities will soon launch in Central Florida.

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Kimberly Beaman Rios is a local autism advocate who’s helping to make it happen. She says she’s on a quest to make Central Florida more inclusive.

READ: Orlando based non-profit planning to build local community for people with special needs

Rios is planning to use the 75 acres of trees and grass at Blue Jacket Park in Orlando for a program called “Hope Stars,” aiming to create opportunities for children with autism.

“I can see the kids playing…getting excited, kicking a ball back and forth,” Rios said. “Everybody should have an opportunity to be included, whether they have autism, don’t have autism, we need an inclusive environment to boost kids’ self confidence and self esteem and reward them.”

The Hope Stars Program was started in Virginia Beach by the Eliza Hope Foundation, named for Rios’ cousin who was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy and passed away at just four years old.

The ultimate vision of the Eliza Hope Foundation is for every child and family affected by autism to be encouraged and...

Posted by Eliza Hope Foundation on Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Since then, her family says they’ve been inspired by her memory to make sure all kids have a place to grow together.

“So many families in this community need an opportunity for their kids to go out to a recreational field in sport, and feel like they’re winning, even if they’re not, at the developmental stage, It’s still a win,” Rios said.

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Rios is a mother of two with another baby boy on the way. She’s also a licensed therapist who has dedicated her life to helping kids with different learning abilities.

Her mission includes Signs that Save, a company Rios started that aims to make the world a little more safe for children by providing life-saving reminders.

Now, through her partnership with Hope Stars, Rios is finding another way to support families in her community.

“What I hope they’ll get out of it is a social opportunity more than anything, because I feel like a lot of kids with autism, they have social needs,” Rios said. “They love too, they want to make friends, and I think it’s a myth in our society that they don’t have those inclinations. So I think it’s just a really great social opportunity.”

Rios says she plans to launch the Hope Stars League with soccer and other activities at Blue Jacket Park on March 5. She says kids of all abilities will be welcome.

READ: ‘They need opportunity’: Orlando man helps train Special Olympics athletes to meet their goals

They’re also still looking for volunteers. For more information, click here.

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Joe Kepner

Joe Kepner, WFTV.com

I unloaded the U-Haul in Orlando in 2008, just in time to cover the Magic's run to the 2009 NBA Finals.