DAVIDSON – IGNITE welcomed guests at its first anniversary celebration Dec. 10 at the Davidson Cotton Mill, where they spent time working, learning and laughing together.

Members have Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism, which means many have led isolated lives with limited social interaction and little self-confidence to have fulfilling jobs and friendships.

ESPN racing broadcaster Ray Evernham founded the nonprofit when he couldn’t find quality programs and activities for his son, Ray J, who has Asperger’s.

IGNITE offers activities, skills training, and educational workshops that foster social, financial, educational and employment independence for its members, who are in their late teens and early 20s. 

Joining IGNITE has made a difference in 25-year-old Mike Hauck’s life.

“Now I have friends, I’m learning different things, I go out and do stuff,” Hauck said. “I’m learning to understand social cues and reactions better, and that’s helping me a lot.  I used to just sit at home doing nothing. Now my friends pick me up to go out.”

Hauck excels at repairing computers and also has a passion for video production. He’s completed his A+ and MCTS certifications, hoping that will turn into a job in computer repair.

In fewer than 12 months, the nonprofit gained 30 members and spawned many success stories, including members who have gotten jobs, developed friendships and learned to live independently.

“We have had a tremendous response in our first year and are so proud of the accomplishments of our members,” said Stacy Hultgren, director of IGNITE.  “We are continually expanding our program offering to meet the needs of our members as they grow and evolve.”

Evernham hosted the AmeriCarna LIVE charity car show Nov. 30 at Ingersoll Rand to raise awareness and funds for IGNITE. The event raised $46,000 for IGNITE.

“To see how these fundraising efforts create change in the lives of young adults at IGNITE is truly inspiring,” Evernham said. “I’m so proud of the accomplishments of all of the IGNITE members this year and really look forward to seeing all that they do in the future.”

Details: www.ignite-davidson.org.