Attending the Auto Club 400: The ‘Opportunity of a Lifetime’

Bethesda-supported individuals to help kick off Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

From left to right: Ambassadors Anthony Donatelli, Jordan Flemming, Carl Riker, Arlene Thomasian and Chris Thompson.

Milwaukee – True fans of auto racing know there’s nothing like being at the track…the roar of the cars, the amazing speed and the anticipation of who will celebrate in victory lane. All of these experiences will come to life Sunday, March 1, for five people supported by Bethesda, as they attend the Auto Club 400, a NASCAR event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

The experience is a collaboration between Bethesda and Motor Racing Outreach to kick off Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a national campaign in which Bethesda recognizes the more than 6 million people in the U.S. with a developmental disability and promotes the urgent need to support and include this community.

Editor’s note: Written bios and videos for each ambassador can be found at in the Media section. You can also see a video in which they received racing gear and learned they were invited to attend the race.

The “ambassadors” supported by Bethesda represent a wide range of ages, geographies, abilities and life experience, but all are sports fans who are excited by the opportunity. Attending will be:

  • Anthony Donatelli, 30, of Mission Viejo, Calif. – Donatelli is a fun-loving sports buff who is always ready for a rec league baseball, basketball or soccer game. This hard-core Beatles fan has Down syndrome and just needs guidance with healthy eating and decision making. He works at TJ Maxx and HomeGoods.
  • Jordan Flemming, 24, of Hillsboro, Ore. – An outspoken NASCAR fan, Flemming is the proud owner of an autographed photo of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jordan is also an avid hunter who has worked at Cabela’s. He has an intellectual disability, ADHD and anxiety, and lives in apartment with others who have disabilities.   
  • Carl Riker, 21, of Ladera Ranch, Calif. –  This racing fan had a chance to go to a race a few years ago, and likes Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Riker has autism and lives with his grandmother but is transitioning to Bethesda services full-time. His goals include going to college to be an EMT.   
  • Arlene Thomasian, 69, of Clovis, Calif. – This sports-card collector with mild intellectual disabilities is a sweet soul. She receives housing and other services from Bethesda. She sees her mother, age 95, on a regular basis and is looking forward to the race.
  • Chris Thompson, 33, of Aurora, Colo. – He’s fun, mellow, and a hard worker, holding down jobs at a thrift store and Domino’s Pizza. Thompson has a mild intellectual disability and this Bethesda host home resident loves basketball, bowling, the Denver Broncos and NASCAR. He’s a fan of Ford, Chevy, JR Motorsports and Rick Hendrick.

“For our ambassadors, attending the Auto Club 400 is the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Mike Thirtle, Ph.D., president and CEO of Bethesda. “We’re pleased to be able to offer such a memorable experience while also spreading awareness to new audiences about people with disabilities, and all they can achieve.”

News conference

Bethesda’s participation in the Auto Club 400 will begin with a news conference at the track at 11:15 a.m. PT Sunday, March 1. Speaking on behalf of Bethesda will be Jeff Kaczmarski, executive vice president and chief legal officer. In addition, disability advocate Kurt Rutzen will speak. Rutzen travels the nation’s state capitals sharing his experience as a person with a disability and advising lawmakers on what can be done to help. [Editor’s note: See bio sheet on speakers at the news conference.]

About Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month was proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. The proclamation called upon all Americans to provide support and opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities to reach their potential. While much progress has been made, there is still much more to be done to truly include people of all abilities. Gaps exist in areas including housing, education, employment, community and faith inclusion.

To learn more about these gaps and Bethesda’s campaign, visit Resources on the dedicated website include a campaign symbol, key facts and statistics, as well as comprehensive guides for employers interested in hiring a person with a developmental disability, for congregations looking to become more inclusive, and for everyone who wishes to learn more about communicating with people who have a disability.  

Bethesda will also employ the hashtag #IncludeAllAbilities on social media and encourages everyone to use it to personally support the campaign and spread the word about the need to include.


About AbleLight

AbleLight is a national leader in pioneering life-changing services that empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to thrive. Founded in 1904 in Wisconsin as a Christian mission, AbleLight promotes independence and inclusion across the U.S. through comprehensive and individualized supports that include housing, employment, spiritual life and much more. For details, go to, like our Facebook page and follow us on LinkedIn.