IGNITE was announced Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Davidson Town Board. From left: Steve Pegram of Fuel Sports Management Group, Ray Evernham and Mary Evernham of Evernham Family Racing for a Reason, Davidson Mayor John Woods, IGNITE director Stacy Hultgren, and Leica Anzaldo of the Autism Society of North Carolina.
IGNITE is a first-of-its-kind program that offers the needs for adults with high-functioning autism (HFA) or Asperger Syndrome (AS) to enjoy a better quality of life as valued members of the community in which they live and work.
The IGNITE program will be housed within a multi-functional space located at the historic Davidson Cotton Mill in Davidson, NC. The IGNITE program focuses specifically on adults with high functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome (AS) that live, work or attend school in the Lake Norman and Charlotte Metropolitan areas. IGNITE is being described as the first program of its kind in the Charlotte area.
That sounds great, but I’m sure you wondering why am I writing about this on my Racingal.com site? Well, because it has a special connection. IGNITE is a program operated by the Autism Society of North Carolina with founding support from the Evernham Family Racing for a Reason, a 501(c)(3) organization started by legendary NASCAR crew chief champion Ray Evernham.
Mr. Evernham has been working with the Autism Society of North Carolina to create the new program. Evernham said he was inspired to help found the new program because of his family’s experience with 21-year-old son Ray J (Ray Evernham Jr.). Back in 1992, Ray Jr. was diagnosed with leukemia at just under a year old. He beat the Leukemia with the treatments of chemo & radiation. At age 14, after years of questions, doctors visits and concerns, but with the common explanation being effects from more than two years of chemotherapy, Ray J was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: a form of autism.
The IGNITE program and space will serve as a peer-to-peer community center hosting a variety of classes, activities and events that seek to engage and encourage members to reach their potential, personal growth and development, and individual goals. The program is designed to meet the following objectives:
• To provide peer-to-peer membership support
• To provide opportunities that enhance the social skills of members
• To provide resources for obtaining employment and job skills training
• To ensure that members have access to appropriate educational supports in continuing their education
• To provide members with various community supports services
• To provide an entrepreneurial vocational opportunity for members
• To provide a wellness program to educate members
• To provide a system of engagement with members
REMEMBER RAY EVERNHAM?
Many of you remember Evernham as Jeff Gordon’s crew chief. Gordon and Evernham won 47 Cup races, 3 Cup championships (1995, 1997, and 1998) together while working under team owner Rick Hendrick.
Evernham left Hendrick Motorsports after the 1998 season to form his own Sprint Cup team, Evernham Motorsports.
Evernham Motorsports had tie-ins with some top and interesting drivers. Bill Elliott, Casey Atwood, Jeremy Mayfield & Elliott Sadler. Evernham Motorsports was credited with leading Dodge back into prominence in NASCAR’s elite racing series while fielding two competitive teams.
On August 6, 2007, it was announced that George N. Gillett, Jr. had purchased a majority share of Evernham Motorsports and that the name had been changed to Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
On January 9, 2009, GEM then completed a merger with Petty Enterprises. Gillett surrendered ownership of the race team that had since been renamed Richard Petty Motorsports to Richard Petty.
Evernham then opened Ray Evernham Enterprises. Evernham is also well known for returning as an analyst for ESPN’s NASCAR coverage. Hendrick Companies retained Ray Evernham Enterprises as a consultant. The Hendrick Companies, a management company formed in 2005 to oversee strategic initiatives for Rick Hendrick, is one of the largest owner of automobile dealers in the United States. With this new position, Evernham will not be involved in motorsports. Evernham will develop special projects related to Hendrick’s various business entities, including development of the Hendrick Performance brand of high-performance vehicles for retail consumers.
Evernham has always been involved with charities, giving back to the Ronald McDonald House, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and many more. The new IGNITE program will open this fall to offer social activities, skills training, and educational workshops. The goal, according to the Autism Society, is to foster “as much social, financial, educational and employment independence as possible for its members.”
Evernham said, “but more questions need to be asked about overly-medicating patients on the Autism Spectrum. More than any medicine, learning how to interact and communicate with people with autism is the biggest test. Communication and teaching, teaching parents even more so than teaching the child,” Evernham said, “it’s not a handicap, they just communicate differently. Their perspective is different than yours and mine. Their vision is different.”
“It’s something that’s from the heart I feel strongly about, and I can’t think of a better place than Davidson,” Mr. Evernham said.
For more information, visit www.IGNITE-Davidson.org.
Sources: IGNITE PR, Google, NASCAR.com