Pictured during the event are SRSO Spokesman Sgt. Rich Aloy, Deputy Bambi Lynn, Emerald Coast Exceptional Families President Kendra Booth and Vice President Angela Nandin with Sheriff Bob Johnson along with Lilliana Bozcar, John Booth, and Danny, Joey and Anthony “Mr. Hollywood” Nandin. Photo by Romi White.
Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson on Tuesday hosted a press conference to debut the agency’s Autism Awareness patrol vehicle. It’s the second recent step his agency has taken to help boost autism awareness for local special needs families.
“Awareness leads to acceptance, which leads to inclusion. That’s our goal,” said Emerald Coast Exceptional Families Vice President Angela Nandin.
The patrol unit’s special wrap features puzzle pieces, which represent the complexity of the autism spectrum, and a quote on the back of the vehicle states It’s not a disability. It’s a different ability.
“That’s such a positive message,” said Nandin. “Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office has gone above and beyond. Sheriff Johnson, Sgt. Rich Aloy and Jillian Durkin have put their heart and soul into the success of this project.”
The Autism Awareness patrol car will be driven by Deputy Bambi Lynn, who is also a special needs parent.
“Deputy Lynn is the perfect person to have this car,” said Emerald Coast Exceptional Families Vice President Angela Nandin. “She understands the challenges our loved ones face.”
SRSO also recently worked with Emerald Coast Exceptional Families to develop the SAFE Program, an innovative way for first responders to know when they’re dealing with special needs persons and how to best handle the situation.
The SAFE Program allows special needs families to enroll in the program, which provides first responders with information about sensory needs, triggers and calming methods. The families receive decals for their homes and vehicles, identifying them as members of the SAFE Program, which is open to special needs persons of all ages.
To help promote the new program, Emerald Coast Exceptional Families on May 14 will host a SAFE Celebration, featuring food and fun. Special needs families will be able to meet first responders and enroll in the SAFE program. The event will take place from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Tiger Point Community Center, located at 1370 Tiger Park Lane in Gulf Breeze.
Sheriff Johnson looks on as Angela Nandin addresses reporters at the March 29 press conference. “Angie is an amazing advocate for children and parents with special needs,” said Trendi Johnson, a Santa Rosa County District Schools kindergarten teacher. “I was lucky enough to teach two of her three children and saw firsthand the dedication has not just to her own special needs children but also for all special needs children and their parents and parents. Santa Rosa County is blessed to have her as part of our community.”
Nandin and others hope to share the SAFE Program with other agencies across the state in an effort to expand it.
For more information on the SAFE Program visit www.santarosasheriff.org/safe-program.