Thirteen years ago, I had a Grandfather and his grandsons in the shop office while they were picking up their vehicle. The grandchildren were aged 3 to 5 years old, and they were little boys. Kids are kids, and I am a big proponent of family and enjoy watching kids have fun. As they became a little rowdier, their grandfather told them to calm down and then apologized to me for their behavior. Frankly, being from a large family of mostly boys, and a father of 4 boys, I didn’t see them as doing anything wrong. The grandfather then looked at me and said, please forgive them my younger grandson is autistic. Well, it was such a shock, he might as well have told me that the boy was green, because I didn’t even know what that meant. Shortly after that, I had another client come in and pick up his car. Let’s call him Sam. Sam had been a client for some years and was very set in his ways. He had some unusual characteristics, and I just put that up to him being Sam. I was also friends with Sam’s sister, and during a conversation with her, she told me a pretty funny story about one of Sam’s exploits and then said: “of course that happened because of his Autism.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. There was a child and a grown man that both suffered from the same syndrome? Was it the same?

Both of these families have become as close to me as a family, and we have had many talks about Autism. I did a lot of research and learned so much about how severe the syndrome is to diagnose and treat, and many different forms it takes. I recently just found out that shortly after the incident with the young boys that, he called to his grandfather and called him his name for grandpa and then didn’t speak another word for two years. Today he is in high school, loves football, is an excellent student and has a career plan all set out. He towers over me and smiles a queer little smile when we talk.

The fact of the matter is when people hear the word Autism. Usually, the first thought that comes to mind is Dustin Hoffman, who portrayed a savant in the movie “Rainman.” Another newer movie that portrays an Autistic genius is “The Accountant,” starring Ben Affleck, which is a more action-based “shoot-em-up” type of film.

Autism became very important to me, I did a lot of research and met so many people that I have known forever that had Autism in their lives. The fact of the matter is that the odds of a mother bearing a son with some form of autism have increased to 1 in 57. This is 2018, odds like this are unheard of, yet they do exist.
I’m a very private person so this story may seem vague, but it is only to protect these family’s privacies. I’m also a person that needs to take a stand in certain instances, Cancer being one and Autism being a close second, amongst others.

This was the beginning of our Free Brakes Program, “Putting the Brakes on Autism.” It’s a straightforward program, but unfortunately, people get hung up with the word FREE and spend more time “looking for the catch” than understanding its simplicity.

Thanks to my sponsors and vendors over the years, our local NAPA stores, being my biggest supporter, (thank you Ernie and Henry) and sponsor at this time, we can donate to you the customer, a set of NAPA high-quality pads or shoes for FREE. The brake job is all of the same; there are no overselling or gimmicks, if you need brakes, then it is the same as usual EXCEPT that you do not have to pay for the brake pads or shoes. That’s a savings to you of $73.00 to $100.00 plus. Plus, you’ll receive a nifty bright yellow shirt that proclaims that you participated in this program.

At the end of the month, we tally up all of the brake work that we performed for the month and Gregg’s Automotive writes a check to Autism Awareness Foundation of Charlotte County for 10% of that number. My goal this year is to write at LEAST a $2000.00 check. This money stays in Charlotte County and goes directly to the classrooms that need supplies, build outs, etc. It doesn’t get co-mingled with the Board of Education etc. What other charity can boast that!

Just in case you know a family or individual that has Autism in it they’re in good company. Some other Autistic individuals were Thomas Jefferson, Hans Christian Anderson, Amadeus Mozart, Michelangelo, Nikola Tesla, and Albert Einstein.

Help me, help this foundation.

Thank you,
Gregg Marrapodi




Every October four things happen in Punta Gorda. First, not in chronological order, the big top appears in the city market place for the Haunted House, second the City prepares the corner of Taylor and Marion for the City’s Christmas Tree. The third and fourth events happen at the same time on the corner of Olympia and Rte 41, a giant pumpkin appears in a golf cart and signs announcing “FREE BRAKES IN OCTOBER” spring up all over town. Of these four events the last two are most important to me, Gregg Marrapodi, owner of Gregg’s Automotive Repair Center.

This is because every year Gregg’s procures a giant pumpkin and asks all of a Punta Gorda to guess it’s weight and the closest guess wins a trip to Key West on the Key West Express. The second and I feel the most important event of the month is our “FREE BRAKES CAMPAIGN.”

Yes, you read that right, FREE BRAKES. How does this work? Well its quite simple, you bring in your vehicle in for a brake inspection, then after we inspect the vehicle and give you the estimate for any brake work that you may need, we supply one set of NAPA premium brake pads or shoes to you for free. That is a savings of usually $83.00-100.00 or more.

How and why would we do this and where is the small print. Well here is the small print and exceptions. THERE IS NO SMALL PRINT OR EXCEPTIONS! We have partnered with our local NAPA AUTOPARTS, to be able to support our local charity HARBOUR HEIGHTS CHARITIES, to provide our local schools with much needed funds for their ESE programs.

You’ll see our bright yellow T shirts that shouts out “I Helped To Put The Brakes On Autism”. This is all very true because as part of our commitment to Harbour Heights Charities, we have pledged 10% of all the brake work that we do in October to them. How cool is this you get a great deal on your brake work and you are assured that .10 of every dollar that you spend is going to this local charity.

Just so if you want to know who these people are let me introduce them to you. Debbie and Steve Vieira, a local couple that live in this county, founded this charity after realizing that the local schools that teach ESE students were in great need for equipment and supplies. Most of the funds that had once been available for these supplies had been slashed by the Board of Education’s budget cuts.

This was totally unacceptable to Steve and Debbie and they single handedly created this charity to supplement these schools. Now this is the really great part, the money that they raise goes directly to the schools in this county not to the Board of Education of any other administrative office. Here is another amazing piece of information 96% of every dollar raised goes to these schools. Just two months ago Steve and Debbie and their family presented a check to the 6 county schools for $20,000.00.

What does brakes have to do with Autism? Most people do not think of checking their brakes regularly, and many times the first time most people even think of their brakes is when they suddenly find themselves with no brakes or a horrible screeching noise when they apply them. So it is with Autism, until just recently Autism was probably the most misdiagnosed syndrome in young children. Yet the odds of having a male Autistic child is 1 in 64.

These are terrible odds; in fact, they are frightening. To answer that lingering question, is there an Autistic child in Steve’s family? Yes, there is. In my family? No, I am blessed that I have never had to here that news about my children or grandchildren, but I have met many families that have faced that news and I watch them work towards coping with life. Why do I support this cause? Let’s just say that somebody has to.


Gregg’s Automotive Maintenance & Repair Center

236 S. Tamiami Tr.
Punta Gorda, Fl. 33950
Auto Repair, A/C Repair, Oil Change, Brake Repair & Transmission Services