October 2023

Zumba for Autism: A Heartfelt Journey of Dance, Inclusivity and Generosity

By Terry deDiego

Let me introduce myself. My name is Terry deDiego and my daughter, Cheryl deDiego-Carlson, and I have been teaching Zumba in Santa Cruz for the last 16+ years.

Over the years we have been a part of many community events such as Relay for Life, Alzheimer’s Association, and numerous fundraising events for less fortunate friends in need. Although people might think that we are giving of ourselves, we are the ones who have truly been enriched in this process. How lucky are we as the only mother/daughter group exercise team in Santa Cruz to be able to share our talents with others while enjoying every moment together?

You know Stoney Godet, everyone does, DJ, bouncer, banker, but most importantly a warrior for kids with special needs, founder of Autism Family Network Santa Cruz (AFN).

Stoney tirelessly has worked with our special needs children in offering Empowerment, Inclusivity and Positivity. With this comes dance parties, roller skating events, trick-or-treating and organizing motorcycle fundraisers for those with special abilities.

You might not know my dad, Hank deDiego. He was a family man, married 62 years, loved people, loved his family, and loved life. Hank played semi-professional baseball, but unfortunately life plans changed when he entered World War II. As a father of five sons and one daughter, he spent his life at all of his children’s sporting events coaching along the way. He ran Teamsters Local 296 in San Jose for many years and was an avid fighter for the underdog. Unfortunately, he passed in 2015.

Stoney started talking to me in 2014 about doing a Zumba for Autism event, but AFN did not have the funds to implement the event so it was put on the backburner for a while.

At that time, my dad had season tickets to the Santa Cruz Warriors and one night as we were walking to our seats Stoney walked by and my dad said, “Hi Stoney,” and Stoney said, “Hi Hank.”

I thought how in the world did my 91-year-old dad know Stoney? But in reality, they are so much alike, because if you have had the blessing to meet my dad once, you would remember him. During that game Stoney mentioned Zumba for Autism again. My dad asked Stoney, well, why aren’t you doing it? Stoney explained he didn’t have the money to get it going. My dad’s response was “Whatever you need, I will take care of it.”

And that simple response is how Zumba for Autism started.

One in 36 children is now diagnosed with Autism. My dad, Hank deDiego, has a granddaughter Ashlee and a great-grandson Cole with special needs, so as you can guess, he put his money where his mouth is.

The first Zumba for Autism event was held in 2015 and took place at the Santa Cruz Warriors Arena. Since then, we have held it at Seascape Golf Course. It is a night full of dancing, music, raffle tickets, and a celebration of love, inclusion, empowerment and positivity. Cheryl and I have brought in the best Zumba instructors in Santa Cruz and the room is jumping.

The pandemic shut us down, but for the first time since 2019 we are back!

Zumba for Autism is happening on Oct. 14 at the Elks Club! Doors open at 5:30pm and tickets are $30. We have Venmo set up or pay at the door.

The Elks has an indoor and outdoor area with a no-host bar. All proceeds will go to AFN for children in Santa Cruz with special abilities.

Our instructors, Cecilia Kelly, Anthony LaFrance, Marisa Jansen, Tara Espinoza, Jaelynn Horton, Cassandra Phillips, Xiomara Delgado, Renee Menard, Kristy Aguirre, Cynthia Hilberath, Joanna Dover, my daughter Cheryl deDiego-Carlson and myself, are ready to bring our passion to dance to you! “Jim-E” Jim Furlong will be on drums and our own man spinning the music, DJ Stoney. There will be two sessions of Zumba and when the sun goes down for the second session, it is a Glow Party!

We will have raffle prizes and a silent auction! We are always looking for donations, so please hit up your favorite instructor with any and all donations.

As always, the first music of the night will be the sound of Hank’s grandfather’s clock. Hank loved clocks and had almost a hundred in his home. In the spirit of keeping his memory and generosity alive, let’s hope the gong of the night will raise the needed funds for AFN to empower our community. We hope to see you there, dancing shoes or not, it is going to be a blast!

Zumba for Autism is Oct. 14 at the Elks Club. Doors open at 5:30pm. Tickets are $30.

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