In 2012, Elena & Lana, the founders of Autism Unites (then called Dance Into Unity, Inc.), developed a series of workshops called “Through the Heart of Tango” where they matched up young adults with special needs to neurotypical young adults and taught them the ‘Art of Connection’ through dance.
Staged at Inclusion Films in Burbank, these workshops culminated in an exhilarating two-day event at a venue in Glendale, where the participants teamed up with professional dancers on stage. The workshops and finale event were filmed by Joey Travolta’s Inclusion Films into the documentary “Through the Heart of Tango“.
In 2013 “Through the Heart of Tango” was accepted into a number of national and international film festivals and featured a number of times on television.
In 2013, TFG Founders, Lana and Elena, collaborated with founder of Empower Autism Now, Arman Khodaei, to produce a series of workshops called “Beautiful” in Claremont, CA.
The aim of these workshops was to develop confidence and unlock creativity in young adults with autism through the art and science of classical ballet.
In April 2013, these workshops evolved into a documentary series filmed at the Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica. The cast consisted of young adults with autism matched up with neurotypical peers through the Match-A-Friend principle. The project showed exceptional results including openness of expression and boost of creativity, displayed in all participants.
The project “Beautiful” was a testament to the success of the Match-A-Friend model. Ballet provided a structured and inspiring environment where everyone was equally engaged in creating, and empowering each other in the process. The workshops focused on participants’ qualities and talents, generating a natural and ‘beautiful’ environment where autism ceased to exist.
The docu-series culminated at Santa Monica’s Miles Memorial Playhouse with a screening of the film, a bracelet ceremony honoring the cast members, and an autism-dedicated performance from Westside School of Ballet (see video above).
On February 27, 2014, Autism Unites hosted a fundraiser featuring Robby Krieger of the legendary rock group “THE DOORS“.
Participants of the project “Beautiful”, Arman Khodaei and Valeria Velyka, shared a touching speech about their Match-A-Friend experience. The evening also featured a piano performance by a blind young man with autism.
On June 3, 2014, Adam, who had autism and was the driving force behind Autism Unites /TFG founders’ projects and programs, passed away at the age of 20 leaving behind the legacy of Match-A-Friend.
As the years passed, we, the founders, realized that the pain of disconnection lives well beyond the autistic population and we are all looking for a way to connect.
In 2016, we created The First Guild (DBA of Autism Unites) to expand our initiatives on a broader scale and reach people from all walks of life.
Adam passed away, but his Match-A-Friend legacy has become the catalyst for a new way of seeing the world.