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"Never underestimate the power and passion of a parent."
When Ben's daughter Avery was diagnosed with autism at age 2, he was affected deeply. He faced the challenge with the motivation and passion that only a parent of an autistic child knows. Much like many other parents, he dove in, learning and absorbing all there is to know about the disorder, community, research and treatments. He found his professional experience useful in building a foundation of knowledge and resources. Ben called upon his 13 years of experience in working with developmentally delayed and mentally ill children and adolescents as a Registered Nurse for the Lose Angeles County Department of Mental Health.
Despite his involvement in the care and treatment of Avery, he felt as though there was still so much more that could be done for the autism community. Ben found an outlet to cope with the stress through exercise, which evolved into a love for triathlon. He was inspired to create a program that would provide empowerment to the millions of parents and families affected by autism. After two years of planning and applications, Train 4 Autism was born, and in 2007 was granted its official 501(c) 3 nonprofit status.
As Parent, Founder, and CEO, Ben has dedicated himself to spreading the mission and core beliefs on which Train 4 Autism is founded. Ben is involved in all of the day to day functions for Train 4 Autism and focuses his attention on developing local chapters and personal relationships and support within the local and national autism community. The dream remains clear, to promote unity among the autism community, and empower those touched by the disorder.
Director of Technology
Sam Felsenfeld’s passion for fighting autism came after watching his middle child Jack (at left, with Sam), born in 2003, struggle with the disorder. He decided he wanted to take action, so he joined Train 4 Autism in March 2009. In an attempt to raise money and nationwide awareness for Train 4 Autism, Sam ran 61 full marathons in 2010, naming the endeavor Operation Jack. He was named Train 4 Autism’s 2010 Athlete of the Year.
Sam has more than 10 years of web development and IT experience and serves as Train 4 Autism’s Director of Technology. “I’m glad to be able to use my skills and abilities to help Train 4 Autism. First, it was the 61 marathons. Now, it’s on the technology side. I’m just happy I have the opportunity to try to make a difference,” he says.
Director of Chapter Development
Shelly Overton started walking with Train to End Stroke in 2007 and during the Long Beach Expo in 2008 she passed the booth for Train 4 Autism. She stopped and talked with Ben Fesagaiga and found a new cause that is much closer to her heart. Shelly has a daughter with Pervasive Developmental Delay with Autistic Splinter Skills, a big label that just means to her and the family that they need to be patient, understanding and have a good sense of humor. Shelly thought she would sign on to Train 4 Autism and join a chapter in Orange County, CA. After joining that chapter, she became president. She has enjoyed getting more involved and is looking forward to the helping new and existing chapters develop. Shelly’s responsibilities include supporting existing chapters and growing new chapters.
Director of Program Development
Brian has been passionate about raising awareness of autism spectrum disorders and working to support the advancement of research and treatment for autism for nearly a decade. As the father of a child diagnosed with autism, Brian understands the challenges families face, while at the same time he appreciates the small but vital victories that come with each new development in the field. As a corporate executive, Brian has spent the last 20 years working in the private sector with global corporations, government agencies and universities. He earned his MBA from Pepperdine University and previously served as a faculty member of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.
Chartered with growing the Train 4 Autism program, Brian dedicates his education, business experience and the passion he shares with his wife Kristin for advancing awareness, research and treatment of autism to his position at Train 4 Autism. Brian and Kristin began running marathons and raising funds for autism in 2004 shortly after their son Reid was diagnosed with Autism. When Reid passed away unexpectedly in 2007, Brian was determined to continue and expand the families fund raising efforts which have directly benefited Reid’s former school (The Help Group), PAUSE4Kids (a Thousand Oaks, CA based non-profit offering programs and scholarships for special needs individuals) as well as the Autism Speaks Autism Tissue Program. Brian is committed to giving other families the opportunity to honor friends, family members, and all those living with autism through Train 4 Autism.