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A Proud Father Tells What His Daughter And 'Stephanie's Day' Mean To Him

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — For the ever-increasing number of children and families affected by autism, finding support and resources is often difficult.

For the second year in a row, CBS2 and KCAL9 will be hosting a very special event and resource fair called "Stephanie's Day," started by CBS2 and KCAL9 President and General Manager Steve Mauldin in honor of his daughter, Stephanie.

>>Stephanie's Day 2012: Click Here For Information

Health reporter Lisa Sigell recently sat down with Mauldin to find out how this event got started and what his daughter -- and her day -- means to her father.

Hug after hug, a high five and a kiss -- this is how Stephanie fills people with joy she sees from the inside out.

"You just feel this aura of Stephanie that's very, very special," Mauldin said. "She's a beautiful young lady that has a great spirit."

Mauldin beams when talking about his daughter. While he may be the president and general manager of our stations, before anything else he is a dad.

"She's probably the greatest blessing in my life, and I know my wife Sheilah's life," he said.

Stephanie was like all kids: happy, healthy, developing like other babies. But, at 2-and-a-half-years-old, things changed. She started having trouble eating, her crawling was a little different. She stopped crying.

Thus began a journey Steve and his wife never expected, when at an early age Stephanie was diagnosed with autism. Right away, they started looking for answers.

"I just wanted us, as parents, to be able to be aggressive, attack this so that we could make her life better," said Mauldin. "As good as possible... and in doing that along the way, we found there were a lot of challenges and not a lot of answers. And that's where Stephanie's Day came from."

It was 16 years ago when Mauldin created Stephanie's Day, an event aimed at helping inform and connect families of children with special needs, primarily autism.

Mauldin says his thought was simple: "Let's provide a resource fair where people can go and find some services that will make their child and their families a little bit better."

It grew from Fort Lauderdale, to Miami, to Dallas and now to Los Angeles.

For the second year, about 50 organizations will come together on the CBS Studio City lot to showcase some of the best therapies, schools and intervention programs in our area. Featured resources include The Help Group, sports clinics, traveling tips, employment opportunities and -- one of Stephanie's favorites -- Best Buddies, a matching group that puts kids with special needs together with mentors for walks, trips, even dances.

On Stephanie's Day, the feeling is contagious. There is plenty of learning but also fun, food, entertainment, and Stephanie herself on hand to greet those coming to learn more at that event. The hostess may even be open to welcoming a hug.

"Oh, please do," says Mauldin, "because if they don't, she will. It's a great place to spend four hours with family, three hours, two hours ... they'll learn something, they'll walk away with something to help make their life better and they'll meet friends, really good friends."

Friends like Stephanie, who had quite an amazing year highlighted by graduating from high school with her family and friends looking on.

"Can I tell you what a big day it was when Stephanie walked across the stage and got her diploma?" praises her dad. "It was a great moment for us. Oh, my goodness, there wasn't a dry eye in our group. We were so proud for her. She was so proud, too. Stephanie did not want to take her robe off. She was a graduate all day, all night .. well into the evening."

And now, at 22, she'll graduate to other programs and new adventures proving without a doubt anything is possible. That is what Stephanie's Day, and Stephanie, are all about.

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