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A getaway respite for families with autistic children

With the help of friends, Luis Navas, and his wife Mary, raised $2-million for a getaway home in Florida for families with autistic children.

Tim Fraser For The Globe and Mail/tim fraser The Globe and Mail

The Donor: Luis and Mary Navas and friends

The Gift: $2-million

The Cause: Donating a house in Florida for use by families with autistic children

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The Reason: To give these families a place to get away

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When Luis and Mary Navas's son Lucas was two years old, Ms. Navas noticed something was wrong.

Until then, Lucas had been a normal child but suddenly he had trouble talking and walking. He became lethargic and had stomach problems. It took months for the family to get a diagnosis but eventually the couple was told Lucas had regressive autism. It's a type of autism that typically develops around the ages of one and two, when a child begins to show signs of regressing in his or her development.

The family moved from Toronto to Miami, where Mr. Navas, a long-time expert in executive compensation, opened a company called Global Governance Advisors (GGA), and where Lucas could get a range of programs that are not available in Canada.

The move has paid off. Lucas, now six, is walking and even swimming. And thanks to a strict diet his stomach issues have subsided. His speech remains limited, but he can say short phrases such as "love you mommy", "love you daddy."

"I'm good with that for now since I have met parents who, unfortunately, have never heard those words from their autistic children," Mr. Navas said in an e-mail to GGA colleagues.

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The couple, who also have an older daughter, Bianca, decided to do something for other families with autistic children.

With the help of co-workers at GGA, Mr. Navas raised $2-million and bought a 2,400-square-foot house along the Emerald Coast on the Florida Panhandle. The idea is to open the house, which sleeps 14, to needy families with autistic children to give them a place to take a vacation, year round, at no expense.

"You are really limited to what you can do when it comes to travelling," Mr. Navas said in an interview. He is working with a Canadian group to help reach out to families who might be interested.

He said part of his motivation came from meeting a chief executive officer who quietly gives away most of his income. The CEO's view was that he had been blessed and he wanted to use that blessing to help others. "It's an interesting perspective on executive compensation," Mr. Navas said.



pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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