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SAFE (Supporting Autism Friendly Environments) Program

Inside the Cassell Colesium SAFE space, a small, colorful room away from the noise of the game that includes bean bags, a cushioned floor, a  play tents and other soft items. Two volunteers are sitting on the left side.
SAFE space at a VT Women's Basketball Game. VT Doodle drawn by Steven White.

Everyone deserves equitable access to events and environments.

SAFE Program Mission

The SAFE (Supporting Autism Friendly Environments) Program partners with campus and community organizations to provide greater access for individuals with autism to attend local venues and participate in community events.

Encouraging inclusion for all.

Stay in-the-know about our SAFE programming through our VTCAR fall and spring weekly e-newletter and via our Facebook and Instagram pages.

Program Overview

Autism is one of many neurodiverse conditions and can be associated with social, communication, behavioral, and sensory differences. These differences may make it difficult for them to attend community events like basketball games, festivals, fireworks demonstrations, the movies, etc. 

For 10 years, the SAFE program has upheld Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission, Ut Prosim, by providing greater access for individuals to attend local venues and participate in community activities. 

We do this by:

·       Consulting with community organizations, businesses, and campus partners to determine low or no cost interventions for their events

·       Training interested parties/teams/employees on how to implement a SAFE event

·       Partnering with a variety of organizations to host SAFE events for the community

The SAFE Program's partners through the years have included the Hokie BugFest, the VT Women's Basketball Team, Wonder Universe, the Lyric Theater, the VT Science Festival, the VT Makers Camp, the VT Physics Department’s K-12 Outreach Program, the Universal Design course at VT, VT Housing and Residential Life, Theta Delta Chi fraternity’s “Bro’s United” mentoring program, Kids Tech University, the Panhellenic Council at VT, and the VT ICAT Creativity and Innovation Day.

VTAC/CAR director Angela Scarpa standing at the information table during the game.
Teach a Trade event in Giles county.
Screen of jumbotron at the game, with player Liz and her sister Raven Kitley being interviewed.
Star player Liz Kitley and her sister Raven in a video highlighting autism acceptance.
View of stadium seats showing the sold out game crowd.
Sensory SAFE study space on the VT campus.
SAFE space outside of the area.  On the floor are colorful soft toys, tents and sensory items for individuals to use.
Our SAFE space in a quiet hallway of Cassell Coliseum.

Join our SAFE community

Would you like to recieve information about upcoming SAFE events and learn how to get more involved?  Scan this QR code and complete the form to join our email listserv.

You can also email us at

SAFE Email List QR code

black and white QR code used for scanning

SAFE Community Champion Awards

The success of the SAFE program depends on community partners who are willing to "champion" the mission and goals of the SAFE program. Our deepest gratitude to the following individuals and their organizations for being our SAFE Community Champions through the years.  Stay tuned to learn who will become our newest SAFE Community Champion!

2017 Susan Mattingly and The Lyric Theatre

2018 Mike Weaver and Hokie BugFest

2019 Phyllis Newbill and the Virginia Tech Science Festival

2020 Jordan Albright, VTCAR PANDA Lab graduate student clinician

2022 Tori Thurston, Assistant Director of Marketing and Fan Experience for VT and the VT Women's Basketball Team.  


Give a Gift

Contributions may be made to the VT Center for Autism Research SAFE Program.

BY MAIL:  Checks should be made payable to the Virginia Tech Foundation Inc. and write VT Center for Autism Research-SAFE Program in the memo section.

Virginia Tech Advancement Division
Office of Gift Accounting
University Gateway Center (0336)
902 Prices Fork Road
Blacksburg, VA 24061

BY CREDIT CARD:  Use Virginia Tech's secure online form.   Select your gift amount.  Under Select an Area select College of Science.  Under Select a Fund select Other.  Under Designation type VT Center for Autism Research-SAFE Program. Under Search for an Area to Support, leave blank.  Complete the remainder of the form.

BY PHONE:  To give by phone with your credit card, please call 800-533-1144 and ask for the Office of Gift Accounting. Our 800 number is answered Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. We accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover.


For more information or to learn about other ways to give, please contact Jenny Orzolek, Senior Director of Major Gifts for Advancement for the College of Science.  You can reach her by  phone at 540-231-5643 or by email at