[Despite the image from all the coverage down there with the Presidential Elections (remember them?), not all Floridians stumble around bumping into each other trying to make up their minds. By Cindy Krischer Goodman firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Dan Marino is standing in the bustling lobby of the Weston medical center he helped build, and almost everyone in it is staring at him in awe. A young boy hands him a scrap of paper to autograph. Marino signs without hesitation. Next, he strolls the halls of the center, shaking the outstretched hands of doctors who greet him. When he enters an area where parents are watching therapists work with their children, a father from Argentina tells him of his autistic son´s progress.
For Marino, a superstar quarterback for the Miami Dolphins for 17 seasons, making a difference in children´s lives has given him almost as great a sense of purpose as the game that made him a millionaire. "When I walk in here and a mom or dad comes up to me and says the program here is making a difference in their child, I´m very proud," Marino says.
With tears in her eyes, his wife, Claire, says that she, too, is moved by parents´ gratitude.
Since establishing the Dan Marino Foundation eight years ago, the couple has raised $3 million for more than 80 children´s charities.
A New Focus
These days, the foundation´s efforts are focused on the Miami Children´s Hospital/Dan Marino Center in Weston, South Florida´s only integrated pediatric outpatient facility. Each month, it gives more than 2,500 children access to specialists from Miami Children´s Hospital and, most importantly, comprehensive treatment for their special needs.
"The Marino's and the foundation are the energy and vision behind this center," said Roberto Tuchman, executive medical director of the center. "We have had children receiving care . . . from a variety of regions around the world."
The idea for the center grew out of the Marinos´ personal experience. Ten years ago, Claire´s mother, a former nurse, picked up on a problem with the Marinos´ son Michael. She suspected he had a hearing deficiency and suggested Claire get it checked out. Soon afterward, a doctor diagnosed Michael, then 2 ½, with autism.
"I drove all over town and all over the country trying to get him treatment," said Claire, 38. "No one was coordinating or talking with each other. It was very frustrating. I thought it would be great for people to have everything in one place and to feel that everyone treating their child was on the same page."
Today, a family can call the center and arrange multiple appointments for a single visit. Child Neurdevelopmental and Evaluation and Treatment Teams work together so the child can see all the appropriate specialists on the same day.
"I saw Michael develop with the right treatment," said Dan, 39. "Everything was done to maximize his potential. I thought we could make a difference in other families´ lives who might not have the same resources as us."
The Marino's have appeared several times on national television to promote early detection of autism. They say they see a positive trend toward more children receiving treatment earlier and toward more fathers getting involved in their children´s care.
In 1997, the Dan Marino Foundation gave $1 million and partnered with Miami Children´s Hospital to give rise to the Weston structure. Memorabilia of Marino´s career as a Dolphins football hero graces hallways and treatment rooms throughout the building. The center´s most touted feature is its team approach to diagnosing, treating and providing long-term care for children with neurological disorders. Services include psychology, physical and occupational therapy, speech and language services and medical treatment. The staff includes 45 therapists and 10 psychologists.
The Marino Foundation also provides a social worker to help families whose children are under treatment. By the end of next year, the center will expand into the second floor of the building.
Until now, the Marino's have personally spearheaded all of the foundation´s fund-raising. The largest annual contribution comes from the Dan Marino Celebrity Golf Tournament, which has grown from raising $70,000 in 1993 to $430,000 in 1999.
Though South Florida sports fans mourned Marino´s retirement, special-needs children benefited. The money raised when 52,000 Dolphin fans packed Pro Player Stadium to pay tribute to him -- about $154,000 -- went to the foundation.
The Marino's want to take the foundation to the next level. Toward that end, they have hired Mary Partin, former president of the South Broward YMCA, as its executive director. Partin´s mission is to create an endowment that will move the foundation toward financial independence.
"Clearly Dan´s name brings attention and awareness to the foundation," said Ralph Stringer, Marino´s longtime business advisor and a Dan Marino Foundation board member. "But we know it has to stand on its own merits."
With his Dolphin jersey permanently retired, Marino still works at getting accustomed to life after football. He drives the morning car pool to take his five kids, ages 14 to 4, to school. He travels weekly to New York to appear on HBO and he travels regularly to tend to a variety of businesses.
Claire says she frequently visits the Dan Marino center with her other children. Their 4-year-old daughter, Niki, whom they adopted from China, goes to the center for speech and language therapy. Two other Marino children have participated in a center program designed to build self-confidence in reading skills.
In addition to their work with the foundation, the Marino's sit on the board of the National Alliance for Autism Research
This year they are the national chairs for the walkathon that will take place all over the country to raise money for research.
The Marino's say they also hope the Weston center will get more involved in research.
"It´s very important to me that I give back," Dan said. "This community has been great to me."
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