By Denise Resnik
As history has demonstrated, only with the help of passionate volunteers, generous corporate contributors and dedicated professionals will we realize our vision: to provide a secure home for adults with autism, where individuals can live with respect, dignity and independence based on their unique needs and abilities; where they will be able to choose among a diverse range of educational, recreational and vocational opportunities and living options; and where they will be integrated with the community, just as the community will be become part of and take pride in them.
This quote is from a strategic plan I wrote in 1999, early in the formation of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). Last month, nearly 20 years after penning those words, we broke ground on First Place-Phoenix, the result of researching 100 residential options across the U.S. and abroad, focus groups involving 100 family members and people with autism, and the dedication of 80 local and national collaborators, represented through public, private and charitable sectors.
First Place-Phoenix, an 81,000-square-foot, 56-unit mixed-used residential property, is only possible through the cumulative impact of decades of intensive community building, beginning with the creation of our sister non-profit SARRC in 1997. First Place-Phoenix is the first in what will become a collection of innovative properties envisioned to transform how people live, learn and continue to grow after leaving the family home. It’s also about mapping out how together we can perpetuate new residential and community options, ensuring that homes for people with autism and other special abilities are as bountiful as they are for everyone else.
First Place will be transformational for how we approach lifelong living, learning and working for individuals with special abilities; integrating physical properties and programs in a variety of community settings as it achieves the following:
- Supports new approaches for adult residential living concerns
- Produces and captures positive outcomes, documented through respected evidence-based research
- Operates through a sound financial framework
- Reduces the cost of lifetime support
- Informs and empowers advancements in data-driven public policy
Beyond Arizona, we need more locations and configurations, varying price points and levels of services, along with opportunities to bring together public and private funds and philanthropy.
True to our history and that strategic plan written back in 1999, we value families, their diversity, rights, futures and the individuality of their children; maintain the highest level of integrity in everything we do; respect the sense of urgency and need for answers (and solutions) now; promote continuous education; collaborate with family, friends and the community at large; and serve as a leader, as demonstrated through all of our endeavors.
I knew when I wrote that strategic plan in 1999 the day would arrive when we would be helping our son, Matt, prepare for the next place he would live outside of our home. I know a lot more now about what the journey entails, and appreciate more than ever how these transitions can be as challenging for people with autism as they are for their parents!
In the year ahead, we’re working on a transition plan for Matt, so he will be better prepared for his new home at First Place-Phoenix in the Spring of 2018. Through First Place AZ, we’ll also be working on an action-oriented plan, including a parent coaching group, for easing that transition for families, helping ensure greater peace of mind for today–and the future.
Onward to a promising 2017!
All pictures accompanying this article are by and courtesy Stephen Dreiseszun / Viewpoint Photographers.
Denise is the founder and president of the marketing and communications firm, DRA Strategic Communications. She also serves as a member of the Arizona Community Foundation Board of Directors and member of the Arizona Advisory Board of BBVA Compass.
The mother of a 24-year-old son with autism, Denise is the founder, president and board chair of First Place AZ (www.firstplaceaz.org), a nonprofit dedicated to developing new, innovative housing options for adults with autism and other ‘special abilities,’ and the co-founder and board member emeritus of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC, www.autismcenter.org), an internationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to autism research, education and community outreach and the support of individuals with autism and their families throughout their lifetimes.
Other nonprofit leadership includes serving as a member of the Autism Speaks Housing Committee, Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) Leadership Council, National Association of Residential Providers for Adults with Autism (NARPAA) and the National Autism Transition Research Network Advisory Panel. Denise also served as a federally appointed member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) of the National Institutes of Health.