‘We had to help’: Advocating for autistic kids becomes mission for business owner
Thursday, March 19, 2020
When Cristina Miranda-Gilson was growing up in South Miami, performing community service was a mandate from her mother, Mercy Diaz-Miranda.
“Whether we wanted to or not, we had to help,”
Miranda-Gilson, 61, said about the importance of volunteering that she learned from her mom, a former newspaper publishing executive.
“It just really is about giving back,” Miranda-Gilson said. “And in giving back, you gain so much.”
Miranda-Gilson is founder and chief executive officer of HDS Companies, a Weston business which sells software and professional services to governments and agencies that manage affordable housing.
She is moving the 22-year-old firm to Miami Lakes this spring, and bringing with it the HDS Foundation, which she also leads.
The foundation’s goal is to help those on the autism spectrum gain independence, work skills and safe housing.
That cause is personal for Miranda-Gilson, whose second daughter, Katherine Gilson-Miranda, now 23, was born premature and diagnosed as developmentally delayed.
“I wasn’t worried about the condition but more about what we could do to improve her outcome,”
Katherine began speech and other therapies. When she was eight, she was diagnosed as autistic, and higher functioning.
“Through my daughter, we learned what the kids needed and where they were having difficulty, because their development ranges along the spectrum and not everybody is getting what they needed,” Miranda-Gilson said.
In Miami Lakes, Miranda-Gilson will find friends among the Special Needs Advisory Board, whose mission is to make the town a model for inclusion of all of its residents and to find solutions for unmet needs.
Miranda-Gilson said that for the past decade or so, HDS Foundation has issued an annual grant to a school, and focuses on eight to 12 teenage students.
The grant money helps the kids obtain jobs and reduce their isolation by getting out to enjoy restaurants, attend a prom or go to homecoming games, Miranda-Gilson said.
The foundation also helps find support for the children’s families who may be overwhelmed, a feeling Miranda-Gilson said she experienced.
Miranda-Gilson’s other daughter, Meagan Bouscher-Miranda, 31, serves on the foundation’s board.
Some of the foundation’s clients have worked at her firm.
“These young people can contribute a lot,” Miranda-Gilson said. “Having them in our company helped our staff on so many levels have a greater understanding for people of different abilities.”
She hopes to expand the foundation’s work in Miami Lakes.
HDS Companies and HDS Foundation will occupy second floor offices along Northwest 67th Avenue above Jersey Mike’s, Amerant Bank, Bolay and Sergio’s Cuban Café + Grill, in the Crescent Pointe building.
April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day.
That night and for the month of April, the Crescent Pointe building as well as the oak tree at the fountain on Main Street will be bathed in blue light to bring awareness to autism.
Town Hall will also have blue lighting.
As for Katherine Gilson-Miranda, she’s a junior at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville in its THRIVE program for students with autism spectrum disorders.
Her goal is to earn a degree in early childhood education, her mother said.
The company plans to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on a future date.