‘The Dragon Master’ donates $2,500 to The Center for Autism

     Santino 'The Dragon Master' Stagliano presented a check for $2,500 to The Center for Autism on Tuesday afternoon. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Santino 'The Dragon Master' Stagliano presented a check for $2,500 to The Center for Autism on Tuesday afternoon. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    The Dragon Master gives back.

    On Tuesday afternoon, 10-year-old Santino Stagliano posed behind an oversized novelty check (subject line: “Helping other children find their dragon”) that represented his $2,500 donation to The Center For Autism, a place where he’s received outpatient services including after-school activities for more than two years now.

    The money came via proceeds from T-shirts he’s sold over the past seven weeks in the name of autism awareness.

    “It’s just tremendous to see him doing so well,” said David Maola, the center’s CEO. “It was his idea to donate the money, which is amazing. And, his shirts and hats are pretty cool, let’s be honest.”

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    At the check-presentation event inside the Ford Road facility — half came via T-shirt sales and the rest was a match from The Center for Foot and Ankle Disorders in South Philly — Santino was surrounded by family and several Center staffers.

    Donning Santino’s customized dragon shirts, they had seen him develop immensely in recent weeks.

    After his mother Lisa posted a Facebook photo of Santino drawing on a T-shirt for “autism awareness” in mid-April, a handful of people responded with Facebook messages saying they’d like to buy one of Santino’s $5 creations.

    As of last week, more than 150 shirts have been sold with orders for 500 more pending. During that span, Santino’s Dragon Drawings Inc., a nonprofit through which the youth “custom designs each dragon shirt by hand to raise money for the Center for Autism!” was born.

    The South Philadelphia boy, who vowed to give half of his proceeds to The Center for Autism, was honored with a citation during a Thursday ceremony in City Council’s caucus room.

    Two days later, he was a featured artist at the first annual “Art is Life” festival in Roxborough.

    In the time since the City Hall visit, orders have jumped to nearly 2,000 shirts coming from places like New Zealand, Ireland and Italy. Suffice it to say, it’s gotten to the point where Santino can’t outline and color all the shirts himself anymore.

    Santino’s dad Mario said that his son’s roster of fans includes the cast of the MTV series “Teen Wolf,” to whom a package of T-shirts was just shipped.

    Mario noted that demand has resulted in them having to form a business to keep up.

    “But this makes it all worth it. This place is why he’s where he is today,” said Mario, motioning to The Center For Autism lobby. “We will do anything we can to help other autistic children and their families. It’s just overwhelming the amount of support we’ve gotten over the past few weeks.”

    The donation will help support the expansion of the Center’s Grant Avenue facility in Northeast Philadelphia. It plans to double the amount of patients it currently serves.

    For more information, or to order a T-shirt or hat, check the Santino’s Dragon Drawings page on Facebook.

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