Let's Get Together
Exercise, arts, hang-outs—HUG’s community calendars include tons of fun events and activities from more than 75 local organizations, all specifically designed for our friends with special needs.
Meet the HUG Entrepreneurs
HUG is passionate about helping our talented friends with disabilities succeed. Check out how these brave and inspiring pursuits of happiness are breaking barriers for social inclusion.
Even though 1 in 4 U.S. adults lives with a disability, mainstream advertising campaigns rarely include people with special needs.
In 2019, Ethan Holt, a young man with Down syndrome, attended a photoshoot hosted by Help Us Gather (HUG), a Florida-based nonprofit that advocates for inclusion. Ethan stunned the HUG team with his good looks and natural talent for modeling.
The HUG team wanted to help Ethan achieve his dream of becoming a professional model. When local talent agencies turned down the opportunity to work with Ethan, the team reached out to dozens of brands and companies directly, working tirelessly to get Ethan that first “yes”. HUG knew the demand for inclusive marketing existed. They were right.
Ethan landed a job as Surf Style’s first model with a disability in 2019 and the story went viral, reaching millions of people across the globe. Since then, Ethan has modeled in various print and online campaigns, been featured in regional and national TV commercials, and continued making waves around the country as his professional modeling career grows to new heights.
Ethan’s success is proof: People want advertising that reflects their reality, and savvy companies large and small are realizing the value of true diversity. In fact, featuring people with disabilities in advertising was recognized as the #1 brand humanity trend by Biz Community in 2020.
Pushing for change isn’t always easy, but in the words of Ethan: “I can handle it. I’m ready.”
Mark was determined to be the first personal trainer with autism to own and operate a fitness studio. He just needed a little help getting the word out. That’s where HUG came in.
Making fab glam jewelry was her passion—why not turn it into a profitable business? HUG rolled up our sleeves to help our friend with Down syndrome build Sparkles by Maxine from the ground up.
Reality schmeality. HUG’s gone virtual with an Oculus virtual reality gaming system and a library of 60+ games specifically geared towards people with disabilities. Swim with dolphins. Climb Mt. Everest. Or just lose yourself in a VR experience without moving a muscle.
HUG’s “How Do You Include?” Campaign
Everybody loves our HUG Ambassadors. You will, too, in this public education campaign we launched starring our inclusion champions. They’ll walk you through a first-person perspective on the beauty of inclusion and how simple it is to build a better world.
People with disabilities love to give back to their communities. Here, Tim talks about his volunteer work in the cat section of the Pinellas County Humane Society. (Yes, there are cats in this video.)
Did you know people with disabilities often outperform their counterparts on the job? Here, Lauren talks about her own job and offers some helpful social tips for anyone working with someone with a disability.
Inclusion champion Will coaches you through how to be your best when communicating with a non-verbal person.
Need a handsome model with a stop-traffic smile and a little bit of friendly swagger? We’ve got one whose story went viral and proves inclusion works.
When we’re talking about inclusion, we mean business. Here, the owner of Sparkles by Maxine shows that people with special needs make great entrepreneurs.
People with disabilities say a lot of valuable things. We only need to take time to listen. Here, Kartheek—a master public speaker—talks about turning people’s #1 fear into his favorite hobby.
What They're Saying About HUG
HUG is a great organization for people with special needs to find various activities in the community. I am so grateful to find HUG because I just moved to Clearwater, Florida and I needed to make friends my own age. Now, I have lots of friends and I have a full calendar filled with fun activities.Neetha ErukullaHUG Ambassador, Volunteer
As a child and now a young adult, I struggled with social interaction. Even now it is so nice to connect with others that share the same challenges. The website is an amazing opportunity for people of all ages with disabilities to help people with social skills and to connect with one another.Rachel BarcellonaMiss Manatee River 2019, Board Member CARD-USF, Ambassador Unicorn Children’s Foundation
We are so excited to have the Help Us Gather website to share our programs and help in providing information to group homes, Adult Day Training programs, parents, companions and others who work with or love the developmentally disabled.Horton TownesDirector, St. Paul Handicapable Ministry
This website is a necessity because it allows people with disabilities or the parent of a person with a disability to easily find events in their neighborhood that can bring them together. They have a variety of choices for all ages and I truly think that this website is a positive step in uniting the special needs community.Katherine MagnoliMiss Wheelchair Florida 2017, Author and Radio Host
Before I found HUG, my daughter was becoming depressed because she was lonely. I found the HUG website, and now she has too many things to do! She has so many friends. Her health is better now because she’s happy. It’s just wonderful.Rose KingMother of Christine King, HUG Ambassador
I could not be happier for being involved with such a great organization like HUG. This organization fills a great need for the special needs community in bringing it into the 21st century, which allows for awareness and acceptance to be spread faster than before. This is the reason I am proud to of become an Ambassador for HUG!Mark FlemingFounder, Puzzle Piece Fitness
HelpUsGather.org was created to connect people with special needs and their families to social events and activities in the community. Feeling disconnected or isolated has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. HUG’s mission is to help create a more inclusive world for people of all abilities.Robin LallyFounder, Help Us Gather
Wanna know what we love at HUG? Creating a more inclusive world by showing off our amazing friends and inspiring people to embrace those of us with disabilities. The good vibes behind HUG are catching on—take a look at these top stories.
HUG featured on FOX 13’s “What’s Right with Tampa Bay” segment for connecting those with special needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Made national news. Went viral on social media. It’s Ethan Holt, our friend with Down Syndrome who landed a modeling gig with Surf Style.
HUG coordinates ceremonial pitch for Dirk Howard in honor of father lost to cancer.
Mark Fleming, a personal trainer with autism, owns the first gym in America catering to clients with autism—and it opened here in the Tampa Bay area. How cool is that?
FOX national news gives a shout-out to HUG for our work with inclusion for people with disabilities.
The solution is as simple as a connection. This video explains what we’re all about at HUG.