Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services has received a $1.5 million donation from Henry and Marcia Baron for a program for children with autism.

The donation will benefit Vista Del Mar’s Julia Ann Singer Center, a nationally recognized educational program for children with autism spectrum disorder and other special needs.

Vista Del Mar serves youths in the Marina del Rey, Westchester, Venice and Santa Monica areas. Among the organization’s four divisions is Family Service of Santa Monica.

“This tremendous gift clearly is a reflection of Henry and Marcia’s deep commitment to improving the lives of children with autism and providing their families with a resource that will serve as a real community center,” said Elias Lefferman, chief executive officer of Vista Del Mar. “The Barons truly embody the spirit of Vista Del Mar and our philosophy of meeting children where they are and employing the therapies that will help them advance in the classroom and in life.”

The Barons’ gift follows the Joan Baron Scholarship, which Henry Baron established at Vista in 2002 in honor of his late wife. The scholarship funds services for children in the critical “gap” period between their diagnosis and, for those who are eligible for public support, when public funding of their therapies and educational services begins.

“I am very blessed, and believe it is important to give back to our community,” Henry Baron said.

In recognition of the gift, the Julia Ann Singer Center school will be renamed the “Henry and Marcia Baron School for Exceptional Children.” The school will add an additional classroom to its current structure, and existing classrooms will be remodeled and refurbished.

Vista Del Mar plans to establish an early intervention program that will enable toddlers and preschoolers on the autism spectrum to benefit from a full range of therapeutic services. In addition to speech/language and occupational therapy and educational classes, the donation will enable Vista to broaden its range of services for this age group to include art, drama and a variety of multi-media forms of self-expression.

“We know that early intervention is best for children with autism spectrum disorder and the Henry and Marcia Baron School for Exceptional Children will stand as a model for employing all the resources that will allow a child to develop emotionally and academically,” said Lefferman.

Construction of the new classroom and renovations are expected to be completed this summer in time for the school to open on September 1st.