University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities

About Tropical Nights

Tropical Nights is your way to help those affected by autism living in South Florida. It is a fundraiser benefiting the programs, services and research initiatives of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD). 100% of the funding from Tropical Nights goes directly to supporting UM-NSU CARD’s programs, services, and community outreach. This signature fundraising event celebrates the impactful work of UM-NSU CARD with a festive celebration designed to raise autism awareness while entertaining our guests with fine food, drinks, music, dancing, and acknowledging the tireless efforts of important community partners. Tropical Nights will be held on Saturday, December 10, 2022, at the beautiful InterContinental Miami Hotel. Over the years, UM-NSU CARD has provided awareness and acceptance in our community. At Tropical Nights we celebrate our community and help raise critical funds so that we can continue to provide services at no cost to families. Currently, 1 in 44 children are being diagnosed with autism. Tropical Nights not only focuses on providing financial support for our programs and services created for families living with autism, it also helps create a community of awareness, promoting inclusion and most importantly, acceptance.

The overwhelming success of Tropical Nights over the past 18 years has allowed UM-NSU CARD to maintain its services during times of tremendous constituency growth. For this, we are extremely grateful to our supportive community and generous donors. Funds raised at Tropical Nights help support our valuable programs and services, all of which are provided at no direct cost to families. Some of these programs include: Support groups for all family members, employment boot camps, surf and summer camps, social skills activity groups for teens, community outreach events and so much more! For more information about Tropical Nights visit us at

This year we are especially honored to celebrate the Mneimneh Family at Tropical Nights. The Mneimneh Family has made significant and lasting contributions to our community and especially to UM-NSU CARD. They have inspired leadership, generosity, and service to our community. By graciously telling their story, Zach and Chirine set out to plant seeds of hope encouraging others to support awareness, acceptance, and advocacy. Guided by his family, their eldest son Waleed was inspired to carry out this mission and created Ace for Autism, a tennis fundraiser, in honor of his brother Tarek and all the siblings of children diagnosed on the autism spectrum disorders.

Our featured artist for the evening is Chris Aviles, a 24-year-old artist diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Born in Miami, FL, Chris was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. He taught himself to draw at a young age and enjoys creating animated characters, using colored pencils as his medium. We are excited to share his art with you at Tropical Nights!

Please join us in honoring the Mneimneh Family, celebrating the continued impact of UM-NSU CARD on our community, and joining together to embrace the unique neurodiversity that allows our community to shine. We look forward to celebrating Tropical Nights with you!

Our CARD Stories

One year ago, I started my job...I really credit Job SEEKers [program] for helping me get the job and also keeping it. That really helped me with communication and interpersonal skills I think in both getting the job and on the job."

- Ross, UM-NSU CARD Job SEEKers Participant

“When we got the diagnosis, the first place I called was UM-NSU CARD. You have this child that you love unconditionally and that you just have to accept the diagnosis. I would say from day one UM-NSU CARD was there, and here we are 27 years later."

The Whitehurst Family, UM-NSU CARD Family 


UM-NSU CARD was there for me soon after I diagnosed with autism, late in life. Since then, they provided supports and guidance, through their programs, like Jobseekers, Job Club and Social GAAIN. They helped me accept - even come to embrace - my diagnosis and meet other adults on the autism spectrum / autistics. They have been with me throughout this journey.

- Jairo, UM-NSU CARD 2020 Outstanding Self Advocate Winner

“My son fell in love with everyone at UM-NSU CARD Explorers Summer Camp. It is all about the people! The teacher notes in the book bag were so positive and encouraging, that they gave us life!! The communication with camp leaders was amazing and timely. The activities and the curriculum were top-notch. He loved the staff (volunteers/counselors) but everyone knew who his favorite was. From her loving hugs to my son to every other detail throughout the six weeks, it was perfection! Lastly, we felt so comfortable and had no worries while he was at camp. It was like he was with family! We love our CARD family and my son had an amazing summer because of all your hard work and dedication! We are forever grateful!”

- Pastor, UM-NSU CARD Explorers Summer Camp

UM-NSU CARD has helped my family on so many levels. They are extremely responsive to calls, emails and requests for help.  Even when they are not in the office they will respond to urgent needs with compassion.  UM-NSU CARD has provided thorough resources and spent time understanding our situation. Thank you!

- Debbie, UM-NSU CARD Parent of Adult Group

When we first began our journey with autism, I felt so lost and confused because I had no idea how to find my way to the therapists, school programs, and other programs/resources that would suit my son best. Not only did I find this guidance in the mother’s group with Sara, but even more valuable was the connection to other moms feeling the same feelings, dealing with the same issues, and being able to cry together or just share stories about our journeys. The friendships I formed in Sara’s support groups are beyond invaluable to me and I thank her, and UM-NSU CARD for that from the bottom of my heart. It is so important to have these kinds of connections! Thank you, Sara, and UM-NSU CARD for this and for ALL you do to support our families!

- Monica, UM-NSU CARD Mother's Group

Celebrating the Mneimneh Family

This year’s Tropical Nights will be a spectacularly gratifying celebration as we honor one very special UM-NSU CARD family.  Allow us to share a little something about them and their deep personal connection to us.  Searching for quality care for their newly diagnosed son with autism, the Mneimneh Family reached out to Dr. Alessandri from their home in Lebanon.  Dr. Alessandri still remembers receiving emails from Mr. Mneimneh and meeting him in person for the first time in his University of Miami office. The family had ties to South Florida and Dr. Alessandri assured them they would find a community that would warmly welcome and support their son and entire family on their journey with autism.  The family officially became clients of UM-NSU CARD in April of 2004 and have been fully engaged in making our community a more accepting and understanding place for all those living with autism since their arrival.  Tarek, their remarkable young adult autistic son is now 23 years old and thriving thanks to the steadfast support of his entire family. The Mneimneh Family has made lasting contributions to our community and especially to UM-NSU CARD.  They have graciously told their stories in several of our annual awareness campaigns, Mrs. Mneimneh (Chirine)has selflessly volunteered to chair two of our annual fundraising galas, and the entire family, led by Silver Knight winning son, Waleed, launched Ace for Autism, an annual autism tennis tournament, in collaboration with his classmates at Palmer Trinity School, which raised over $100,000 for UM-NSU CARD. This family is considered by us to be one of the “first families” of UM-NSU CARD, and we honor them this year for the 18 years of inspired leadership, generosity, and service to our community.

Please join us in honoring the Mneimneh Family, celebrating the continued impact of UM-NSU CARD on our community, and coming together to embrace the unique neurodiversity that allows our community to shine.

Thank you to our Supporters

Create your own FUNDRAISING PAGE or start a team today! By creating your Fundraising Page, you can help UM-NSU CARD raise funds and reach their goal for Tropical Nights 2022! 100% of the dollars raised for Tropical Nights goes directly to support our programs and services, which are all provided at no cost to families.

Today, autism affects 1 in 44 children. Tropical Nights is the single most important fundraising event for the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD), and a celebration of the autism community in South Florida. UM-NSU CARD opened its doors in 1993 and has been dedicated to optimizing the potential of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), dual sensory impairment, sensory impairments with other disabling conditions, and related disabilities. 

UM-NSU CARD is a unique success story and a global model for a community-based approach for autism support. We currently serve over 15,000 families in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties, all at no cost to them. There are an estimated 4.7 million people living in our 3-county catchment area (Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties). With the prevalence of autism now, that means there may be 106,000 people in our community who need our services. Your support will help us reach all those who would benefit from our support.

We provide families and our community with resources specific to their needs including: Individualized Client and Family Support, Family and Professional Training, Public Education and Awareness and Community Outreach and Programmatic Consultation and Technical Assistance. UM-NSU CARD is one of seven state-funded, university-based outreach and support centers in Florida. For more information about UM-NSU CARD, please visit: