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  • Age
    55
  • Occupation
    Professional Truck Driver
  • Company
    Ryder System
  • Location
    Melbourne, Fla.

Autism was still little understood in the mid-1990s when Melvin Cairns’s son, Marshall, began to withdraw from his family at age 2. A couple of years later, a doctor told the family they should “be prepared to put him in a home one day,” Cairns recalls. The professional driver, who has been hauling rigs for Ryder for the past 14 years, had no intention of preparing for that. Instead, he dove into researching autism, the condition that Marshall was diagnosed with at age 5. Cairns, moreover, has made it his mission to support families facing a challenge similar to his own. In 2001 he started a special needs ministry at his Florida church. In 2010, he incorporated a nonprofit group called, “Racing for a Cure“, which raises funds for the treatment and care of special needs children. Too often, parents of kids with disabilities become isolated from the greater community, says Cairns. “We want them to be able to be a family and to be able to come back into society.” His son Marshall, now 20, just graduated from high school in May (the two are pictured together, above, at the graduation ceremony). Vocational school is up next.

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