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Providing a magical getaway for families with autistic kids

Businessman Luis Navas raised about $1-million, mainly through co-workers at GGA, to pay for the purchase and upkeep of the two vacation homes.

TIM FRASER/The Globe and Mail

The donor: Luis Navas

The gift: Two houses in Florida for use by families with autistic children

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

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When Canadian businessman Luis Navas bought a home in Florida two years ago and made it available to families with autistic children, the response was overwhelming.

"We received over 5,000 requests," said Mr. Navas, vice-chairman of Toronto-based Global Governance Advisors, which specializes in executive compensation plans. "We were turning down a lot of very qualified families."

The interest was so high that Mr. Navas has now bought a second house in Celebration, Fla., on the Walt Disney World site, which can accommodate up to 10 people. Mr. Navas raised about $1-million, mainly through co-workers at GGA, to pay for the property, renovations and upkeep. It's open to families with an autistic child to use for a week at a time, although Mr. Navas asks that those interested provide a letter from a doctor, a family photograph and some proof of income.

Mr. Navas and his family moved from Toronto to Florida several years ago so that their autistic son, Lucas, could have access to programs that are not available in Canada. Lucas, who is now eight years old, is "certainly happier than he has ever been," Mr. Navas said.

He's considering buying another house in Miami, and he is looking at acquiring old hotels that could be converted into permanent housing for people who have autism and are too old to be cared for at home. For now, though, he hopes the vacation properties offer something special for as many families as possible.

"What better way to put aside negative things in your life than some time in Disney?" he 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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