BELMAR, NJ — As Monmouth County’s autism outreach coordinator, Fran Hines is an educator, communicator, facilitator, and most importantly, a good listener.

And because of his dedication to serve in that multifaceted role, the Belmar resident was recognized this week — in observance of National Autism Awareness Month — for his “exceptional work in training and creating awareness, and promoting safety in the special needs community.”

The commendation was presented by the Board of Freeholders one day after Monmouth County held its second annual Autism, Project Lifesaver and Special Needs Registry Forum on April 2 in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day.

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As part of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, Hines was a key participant in the event, which brought together various government departments and the public for an overview of the services and programs available to the county’s special needs population. Click here for more information.

The sheriff’s office credits Hines with placing the county at the forefront of autism awareness because of his professional commitment.

Each year, he provides training to thousands of law enforcement and public safety personnel on how to prepare for dealing with individuals with autism spectrum disorder, emphasizing that patience and understanding is crucial in approaching a situation.

He also plays an integral role in Project Lifesaver, responsible for interviewing individuals who are joining the search and rescue program, which uses a GPS locator to track people with Alzheimer’s disease and autism when they wander and go missing.

Hines' advocacy for autism awareness doesn’t end when he leaves work. He and his wife, Jeannie, are the driving force behind Colton and Friends-A Foundation for Autism — named for their son, who has never let autism get in the way of his success. The 21-year-old high school graduate is employed in Belmar's Public Works Department, where his father forged a 31-year career before retiring and then assuming his current post in 2016.

As part of its outreach to parents with children on the autism spectrum, Colton and Friends is known nationally for its annual Beach Bash, which will be held on September 8 at the Belmar beach. Now in its 15th year, the event attracts thousands of families for a “judgment free” day on the beach, where surfers from both coasts come to surf with children with special needs. For more information, click here.


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