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SAFE (Supporting Autism Friendly Environments) Program

Inside the Cassell Colesium SAFE space, and small, colorful room away from the noise of the game that includes bean bags, a cushioned floor, a  play tents and other soft items.

Virginia Tech Supporting Autism Friendly Environments (SAFE) Autism and Sensory Friendly Women's Basketball game


The SAFE Program, the VT Autism Clinic & Center for Autism Research (VTAC/CAR), and the VT Women's Basketball team collaborated together on our second Autism friendly basketball event!  This game, inspired by #33 Elizabeth Kitley's autistic sister Raven,  offered special sensory cues, lowered music volume, and a SAFE space for individuals/families to visit if they needed a more quiet environment.  With over 80 people who registered for SAFE seating, I'll say it was a huge hit!  Learn more about Elizabeth and Raven here and in this quick video.

We send a sincere thank you to all of the autistic individuals, parents, caregivers, youth, athletes, basketball fans, band members, VTCAR and SAFE volunteers, and athletics staff  for incredibly successful SAFE events.  This event would not have happened without the inspiration and initiation of the Women's Basketball Team.



The SAFE (Supporting Autism Friendly Environments) program provides greater access for individuals with autism to attend local venues and participate in community activities. True to Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission, this outreach initiative provides enrichment activities to local families to enhance the quality of life for individuals in our community.

Click to see our SAFE Coordinator give an overview of the SAFE Program.


Text: How can you make your environment or event SAFE? Become a SAFE partner to learn more.

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 the SAFE coordinator, Amy Azano, at or 540-231-8889.

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:  At the time, Jordan was a clinical science graduate student with a full schedule.  Her work behind the scenes of planning, staffing and training various organizations to be ‘SAFE’ approved was top notch.  We are grateful for her tireless efforts and three year dedication to the program, where Jordan organized and implemented at least 12 SAFE trainings.

2022 Tori Thurston, Assistant Director of Marketing and Fan Experience, and the VT Women's Basketball Team.  The SAFE basketball games of 2021 and 2022, inspired by #33 Elizabeth Kitley's autistic sister Raven, would not have happened if it weren't for Tori initiating the collaboration.  Both were executed with great success and we look forward to more games in the future!


SAFE Goals

Goals for the SAFE Program are twofold: (1) to provide everyday access to entertainment venues for individuals with autism and their families; and (2) to create a culture of awareness and acceptance in our community. While increasing access for meaningful participation in the community by individuals with autism, SAFE also teaches empathy, creating a community of care and compassion – qualities greatly valued by Virginia Tech.

Program Activities

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability typically causing significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. These challenges can make it difficult for individuals with autism to attend a parade, enjoy a fireworks demonstration, or experience entertainment outlets like going to the movies, watching a sporting event, eating out at a restaurant, going bowling, trick-or-treating, and so forth. The SAFE Program endeavors to partner with community organizations, businesses, and Virginia Tech to strategize low or no cost interventions that can increase access for individuals with autism and their families or friends.

The SAFE Program's previous partners include the VT Physics Department’s K-12 Outreach Program, the Universal Design course at VT, the VT Science Festival, 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.

Check out the SAFE Facebook page for updates on news and events!


Give a Gift

Contributions may be made to the VT Center for Autism Research SAFE Program and mailed to the address below.  Checks should be made payable to the “Virginia Tech Foundation Inc.” and include "VT Center for Autism Research-SAFE Program" in the memo section.

Virginia Tech
Office of Gift Accounting
University Development (0336)
Blacksburg, VA 24061

To make an immediate contribution using your credit card, you may use Virginia Tech's secure online form or contact the Office of Gift Accounting at 1-800-533-1144. If using the online form, type in the amount of your gift and click on the "Enter your own" (blue button to the right of the drop down menu for selecting which area will receive your gift).  Then type VT Center for Autism Research-SAFE Program and complete the rest of the form.

For more information or to learn about other ways to give, please contact Jenny Orzolek, Director of Development for the College of Science, by phone at 540-231-5643 or by email at