Managing expectations is important for us all. As much as we’ve been preparing for the reality of First Place® AZ for nearly two decades through research, planning and design, our family also appreciates that transitions take time, hard work and teamwork. They also require courage, trust and confidence-building successes.

As our son Matt transitions to First Place–Phoenix, his first home outside our family home, we’re preparing ourselves for what’s next. Like so many families like ours, that’s what we’ve been doing for most of his 27 years!

We’re grateful that during our lifetimes and those of his grandparents and his closest family members—all Matt’s greatest champions—we’ll be by his side helping him, and each other, with this momentous transition. We know the day will come when he will prefer spending more time at First Place than our family home. That will be the turning point where Matt begins living a life of his choice versus our own.

While we don’t expect this will happen overnight or even over a period of weeks or months, a brighter future of independence and its inherent joys await Matt—as does greater peace of mind for those who love him the most.

By Denise D. Resnik, Matt’s Mom
Co-Founder of SARRC and Founder/President/CEO of First Place®AZ

Our son Matt just celebrated his 27th birthday. Times like these make us pause and reflect on his progress, can-do spirit, kind heart and the many reasons we are proud of a man who has worked so very hard for what comes so easily and naturally to those not significantly impacted by autism. These times also allow us to reflect on just how far we’ve come as a family and a community.

Twenty-five years ago, we didn’t know where to go or what to do. We barely knew what autism was. The landscape was barren—and the internet, just emerging. I connected with a small mother’s support group that met at a coffee shop near our local regional mall. We were all focused on the pressing questions of the day. One table of moms became two, then four—then we filled an entire restaurant with moms and dads.

We pursued answers and remedies everywhere! Intensive early intervention and ABA therapy. Vitamins. Pork hormones. Some therapies supported by data, others not—like those that gave us hope to help our children sleep, eat or stop chewing the leather from our living room couches.

There were always really big questions: How did this happen? Will he recover? Am I to blame? How can I be the mom he needs and deserves when there’s so much I don’t know and so much I fear? We found our answers in the community—specifically our Phoenix community of friends, families, physicians and professionals. With their help, the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) was founded in 1997 quite humbly. We were without money, staff or dedicated office space. But with our big dreams, ideas, and a bold vision, we are advancing discoveries and supporting individuals impacted by autism and their families throughout their lifetimes.

We believed that if SARRC focused on what was right for our families and community, we could create a model for communities everywhere. Today, SARRC is 160 employees strong, has an $11+ million annual operating budget and serves as one of the most robust sites in North America for the recruitment and enrollment of subjects in pharma trials. Together, we’ve built a city that offers early identification, intervention and education; lifelong learning; training and employment; an aware, supportive community; and now more home options. It’s why PBS NewsHour dubbed Phoenix “the most autism-friendly city in the world!”

Thanks to SARRC and our supportive community, the stage was set in 2012 for the founding of First Place AZ, SARRC’s sister nonprofit, which is set to open its first new innovative property next month. It’s called First Place–Phoenix and it’s filling our hearts with more hope than fear, helping us answer that looming question: “Who will care for my child when I’m no longer able?”

Backed by 18 years of research, support from the Urban Land Institute and more than 100 collaborators, First Place AZ is positioned for a transformational impact on how society approaches housing and community development for individuals with autism and other special abilities. It represents new residential prototypes that offer more choices based on individual needs and interests.

We’re realizing this vision through [our first major project, First Place–Phoenix. Set to open next month in the heart of the urban region, three primary components of our model open doors to those seeking more options: Residents of the First Place Apartments can enjoy a suite of services and amenities, with all the benefits of community-connected living: transportation, health care, employment, continuing education and recreation. Participants enrolled in the First Place Transition Academy learn independent living skills, integrating into the fabric of the community as recognized citizens, neighbors, employees and friends. The First Place Global Leadership Institute is our catalyst for advancing replicable options, a center where families, people with autism and thought leaders collaborate on housing solutions through training, education, research and public policy.

We are today where senior housing was 50 years ago. We have a burgeoning population in need of homes and services that must transcend outdated and limited models. We are focused on matching the interests and needs of individuals with the right property location, design and amenities rooted in communities—everywhere. A new generation of dynamic housing models is only possible by collectively tapping private, public, philanthropic and nonprofit interests.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to pioneer innovative housing and community development across North America. Together, we can build a new market that transcends old ways of thinking and ensures housing options for people with autism and other neuro-diversities are as bountiful as they are for everyone else. Please join us and learn how you can get involved at firstplaceaz.org.

Dear First Place Residents,

My name is Lindsey Eaton and I am a member of First Place Resident Advisory Committee.  I will also live at First Place Phoenix. What drew me to First Place were the facts that it would be close to my job, there would be plenty of fun events to do in Downtown Phoenix and the fact there are different rooms on each floor. The second floor has a fitness room, the third floor has a game room and the fourth floor has a zen room!

Whether you are a First Place Transition Academy participant or a First Place resident, the Resident Advisory Committee will be there to help you.  We will answer your questions or be there to support you if you need it. We will wear magnetic name tags with our first names on them so look for us. Look for our leaders Sara and Nina too.

Now a little bit about my story: I moved into the First Place Transition Academy in November 2016. During two year time in the program, I learned how to cook my own meals, do my own laundry, take Uber and the light rail, be on time for meetings with my job coach,  advocate for myself when I have had a question for staff and plan social events with my peers. I spoke at the 2017 SARRC Community Breakfast about my journey with autism.  It has now been a year since I spoke but I still have people come up to me and say they heard the speech and how it was powerful.

Employment is a big goal of Transition Academy and First Place–Phoenix alike.  I have worked at the AZ School Boards Association for seven months now and I love every minute of it. My co-workers and supervisors value me- when I leave for a few days to go on a trip the team tells me they’ll miss and I thank them.  I help with a variety of different tasks including shredding papers, greeting guests, signing for packages and gathering signatures for birthday cards for my co-workers. When I work, I try and stay busy. I offer to assist the team with new tasks through taking initiative.  I also talk to my co-workers and supervisors when there is time. We talk about our lives, family, work and summer break plans.

Now back to you. Each and every one of you has your own story. At First Place- Phoenix, we will be part of each other’s journeys. We will work, we will learn together, we will lead together and we will create lasting memories together.  We all have our own unique abilities. Some of mine public speaking, event planning, blogging, writing letters and leading people on tours of First Place. What are your abilities?

Thank you,
Lindsey Eaton
First Place–Phoenix Resident

Read more from Lindsey’s blog.