SPRING HILL — It started as a small project spearheaded by an International Baccalaureate student at Springstead High School, and included just a handful of vendors to promote awareness for disorders falling under the autism spectrum.
Last year, with help from the Inspire Foundation, the event became more of a family musical event and grew to 70 vendors and sponsors. It drew more than 600 visitors.
Despite its success, Springstead decided to ax the event, so the Inspire Foundation teamed up with the Hernando County Family YMCA to keep it alive.
"We didn't want it to end," said Jason Rhodes, chairman of the Inspire Foundation, which is based in Port Richey.
So when the fifth annual Autism Fest takes place on Saturday at Springstead, it promises to be bigger and better than ever, featuring a concert by American Idol's James Durbin.
"We are excited to have James Durbin," Rhodes said. "He has affected so many lives. He shows people that this label is just a word. It doesn't define who you are."
Durbin, who has Tourette syndrome and Asperger syndrome, was one of the most popular contestants on Season 10 of American Idol, finishing in fourth place.
Proceeds from the event will benefit special needs children who attend Camp Coast at the YMCA, as well as music and art programs through the Inspire Foundation, including a new program, the Inspire Initiative, which will provide 125 kids with a weekly music or art class throughout the school year.
The Inspire Foundation is a nonprofit organization that was started by Rhodes and his wife, Cristine, whose son, Jacob, is autistic. Jacob stopped talking at age 2, and communicated with his parents only through music. Jacob, who turns 15 next week, is now fully verbal and is the founder of the Junior Members section of the foundation.
"He is the reason we started this," Rhodes said.
Along with Durbin, Saturday's event will include the Tampa alternative rock band Hope Darling, as well as singer/songwriter Nikki Dermott and entertainer Mr. Tommy (aka Tommy Girvin, the wildly popular children's entertainer who, until recently, was the lead guitarist for 1980s icon Eddie Money for nearly 30 years). The Tampa Yankees Street Team will also be on hand with its mascot, Blue. Papa John's will provide food.
The festival will include a game truck with a variety of activities and games for kids, face painting and raffles. There also will be train rides for the children, as well as about 70 vendors.
"The community has really come together to put this together," Rhodes said. "This is an event for everyone, not just those touched by autism."