The Cruz-Whitehurst Advocacy Award


Congratulations to David Pike and Mary Palacio-Pike! In 2002, Mary and David Pike were blessed with the birth of their angel, David Jr. By the time he reached 18 months of age, they noticed that he was not meeting expected milestones and saw signs of inappropriate behaviors beginning to emerge. At the end of 2004, when David Jr. was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with encephalopathy consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by Dr. Roberto Tuchman.

Their lives changed immediately and dramatically as they immersed themselves in the job of raising David Jr., learning to be his guide out of the seclusion of autism, as well as aiming to provide the most optimal upbringing to their youngest son Joshua. There were so many challenges and no clear roadmap to success. After years of engaging in a broad spectrum of disparate and seldom cooperative therapy regimes, Mary and David realized the best hope for their son, and other neurologically challenged children, had to be a more holistic and cooperative therapy regime which spanned disciplines and was designed around the child’s needs. Based on this belief, Mary and David opened the Crystal Academy Therapy Center in August of 2009 and expanded in 2011 to include the Crystal Academy School. Today, Crystal Academy has served more than 600 families. Part of their mission is to continue to form alliances with community agencies and businesses in order to promote community-based instruction opportunities to increase social opportunities and life skills.

 David Sr. has served as President of Crystal Academy from its inception in 2009 until 2017, and now proudly serves as Chairman of the Board. He has also served two terms as a member of the Constituency Board of UM-NSU CARD. Mary currently serves as President and Director of Community Relations for Crystal Academy, where she has been instrumental in helping to create and promote opportunities for special needs children and their families in the Coral Gables area. Mary was nominated in 2018 for the AXA Advisors Outstanding Educator Award as well as currently serving as a member of the Coral Gables Advisory Board on Disability Affairs. Under her direction, Crystal Academy has been the recipient of various Proclamations from the City of Coral Gables and the City of Miami. Crystal Academy partnered with the City of Coral Gables Government in the production of the Emmy Award Winner for best Documentary, “Embracing Autism, A Coral Gables Story.” Crystal Academy created the very first Autism Awareness event in the City of Coral Gables at the Coral Gables Museum in 2018, and held the first ASD awareness resource event at the City of Miami, MRC Building and Police Headquarters in April 2019. In addition, Crystal Academy has assisted the Coral Gables Youth Center with inclusion opportunities, training and program development. Crystal Academy has been the recipient of several grants from the Coral Gables Foundation and has been featured in Gables Living, the Coral Gables Magazine, the Mayor's Report and in many articles in the Miami Herald.

 Collaboration is the defining focus of Crystal Academy. We are proud and blessed to count on UM-NSU CARD - not only for the children and families we serve - but also as a supportive and guiding force for our staff. UM-NSU CARD has been instrumental in the success of Crystal Academy, and immeasurably helpful in the evolution of David Jr.’s life. The Pike family has actively participated in every Tropical Nights event since opening Crystal Academy, and have had the pleasure of chairing the event. We are humbled and delighted to be recognized with the Cruz-Whitehurst Award at Tropical Nights 2020.


David and Mary
David And Mary