LAS VEGAS - Julian Maha, a Birmingham physician and founder of an organization that works to improve the lives of children with autism, was announced as the winner of The NASCAR Foundation's Seventh Annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide on Thursday night, during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas.
Maha, from Vestavia Hills, Alabama, was chosen via an online fan vote conducted on NASCAR.com. He is the award-winning founder of KultureCity, the cutting-edge organization that also seeks to educate society regarding inclusion of autistic children. In addition to the award, KultureCity received a $100,000 donation from the foundation, NASCAR's charitable arm.
The award honors the philanthropic ideals and vision of the late Betty Jane France, who started The NASCAR Foundation in 2006. It is annually presented to a NASCAR fan who embodies those ideals through their own service in their community.
Maha has a non-verbal autistic son, who inspired him to found KultureCity in 2013. A variety of accomplishments and accolades have ensued.
KultureCity - which has been named a Top-10 Non-Profit by Microsoft and the Top Non-Profit in Alabama - estimates that under Maha's leadership, the organization has impacted the lives of more than 100,000 autistic children. Maha is a past recipient of the Alabama Distinguished Citizen Award; he was named "Top Southerner" by Southern Living Magazine and was a Top 40 under 40 Influencer in 2016. In addition, his Sensory Initiative program - which addresses sensory inclusivity in locations such as arenas, stadiums and other public settings - has been utilized at the Birmingham Zoo and Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, and by 12 NBA teams and two NFL teams.
Maha also is a proud NASCAR fan, which makes sense. He lives just a short drive from Talladega Superspeedway.
"For me, the biggest thing about NASCAR, is that everyone gets together and they create what is almost a community over a race weekend," Maha said. "It's an amazing display of enjoyment of a singular event and an amazing display of unity. People from different backgrounds, different demographics. It's everything that's great about America."
This year's other three award finalists' charities each received $25,000 from The NASCAR Foundation:
• Shannon Goldwater of Scottsdale, Arizona, founder of Feeding Matters, an organization that strives to promote advances in both the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric feeding disorders.
• Tammy Richardson of Las Vegas, representing the Nevada Childhood Cancer that provides programs and services to children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Richardson is a longtime volunteer and committee member at the foundation's Camp Cartwheel.
• Two-time cancer survivor Chante Gonzalez Vido of Jamul, California, head counselor at a camp for young cancer patients that is operated by The Seany Foundation, which assists children and their families battling cancer.
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---