HELPS YOUNG MAN EXPAND HORIZONS
December 22, 2012
Band’s music, garb has been key in coping with autism

By MELISSA ST. AUDE, Staff Writer Casa Grande Valley

Marco Rivas Sotelo was 9 years old when he first saw a music video featuring the band KISS. Years later, as a young adult coping with autism and learning disabilities, the music he liked as a youngster propelled him to step out of his comfort zone to try to establish a local fan club as a tribute to the band with a float in this year’s Casa Grande Electric Light Parade.

“I like their music,” he said.

Rivas Sotelo’s KISS-inspired float in the 2012 Electric Light Parade earned a third-place award in the “most original” category behind Fiesta Grande RV Resort and Arizona Public Service Co’s entries.

“We’re really happy with third place,” Rivas Sotelo said.

But for Rivas Sotelo, the real reward came not from the third-place honors, but from knowing that he accomplished a long-standing goal to pay tribute to the band with a float in the parade and made a few new friends along the way.

“We learned there are a lot of KISS fans — especially kids and hopefully, Marco can build on that,” said Yvonne Johnson, a vocational rehabilitation volunteer who works with Rivas Sotelo.

After seeing KISS in concert a few years ago, Rivas Sotelo longed to put together a tribute float for the Electric Light Parade. Last year he tried to organize a float but between his communication issues, lack of transportation — Rivas Sotelo does not drive — and too few resources, he was unable to organize the entry.

“This year he started earlier. He had purchased the costumes after Halloween last year and started planning,” Johnson said. “I helped him with transportation, but he did everything else himself with his friend.”

Rivas Sotelo, who was diagnosed with autism at age 4, said he tries not to let his disabilities interfere with his life. The 22-year-old graduated from Casa Grande Union High School in 2008 and works as a sign holder for a jewelry store. He also volunteers at the Casa Grande Main Library.

In planning his parade entry this year, Rivas Sotelo turned to Facebook, posting an announcement about his hope to build a KISS-themed float for the parade and asking for assistance. He also hung up posters in various locations throughout town.

People responded.

A friend offered use of his trailer and through Facebook, Rivas Sotelo coordinated with other fans, one who had a KISS-themed car and another who had a KISS-themed truck. Both joined with Rivas Sotelo for the parade.

Johnson and another friend helped with the logistics of the float and by providing transportation for Rivas Sotelo and his friend.

“Marco and his friend really did everything,” Johnson said. “It was their idea and they made it happen.”

Another friend volunteered to drive the truck that pulled the float in the parade.

By the day of the parade, several people had been involved and Rivas Sotelo, along with three of his friends, dressed as the four members of the band KISS and took to their lighted stage on the float.

“I felt like a different person when I had the costume on,” said Rivas Sotelo, who dressed as Spaceman Ace Frehley for the parade. “It was great.”

Along the parade route, Rivas Sotelo said people cheered for their float.

“By the end of the parade, there were close to 20 extra people on or following the float,” Johnson said.

Since the parade, Rivas Sotelo hopes to unite area fans into a formal fan club. Knowing there is a large KISS fan base in Casa Grande, Rivas Sotelo said next year’s float will be better. And next year, he hopes to enter his tribute float in parades in other communities as well as Casa Grande.

“Anybody can make a dream happen if you don’t give up,” he said.