I drafted the first strategic plan on housing in 1999—just two years after co-founding the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC)—but our first published research didn’t follow until a decade later through a study titled “Opening Doors: A Discussion of Residential Options For Adults Living with Autism and Other Related Disorders.” This groundbreaking study represents the evaluation of nearly 100 properties and programs for special populations across the U.S. It also presents 10 specific design goals and guidelines, maps out the steps required to build and advance a marketplace of housing options for special populations and includes a collection of resources. The study included focus groups involving more than 100 individuals with autism and their family members, helping shape our bold vision that endures to this day: to ensure that housing and community options are as bountiful for people with autism and other different abilities as they are for everyone else.

We recognized that collaboration among the public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors is essential to achieving that vision. We brought together leaders from throughout Arizona and across the country to further inform our plans through a national family roundtable, two national charrettes and literally hundreds of meetings dissecting problems, probing solutions and anticipating new challenges.

This graphic is the result of our national family roundtable, summarizing the hopes and dreams of families. It’s stored in our ‘peace room’ and helped guide the development of First Place-Phoenix, together with other significant bodies of work.

We’ve learned a lot through the years and are eager to share more with you as we collaborate to empower a new wave of real estate in this important marketplace. Please join us for First Place AZ’s fall Global Leadership Institute Symposium from October 24 to 26. There’s still much to learn from each other—and even more we can do and build by working together!

We’re thrilled to welcome 30 new residents to First Place–Phoenix since our opening last month and plan to welcome many others in the weeks and months ahead. Needless to say, it’s been a time of tremendous teamwork, celebration and reflection.

Together with residents, our 24-member staff is building a culture and community of pride, purpose and fun. Each member’s educational background, work and life experiences—and compassionate hearts—inspire me and build my confidence daily. They have been working tirelessly to understand everything about First Place–Phoenix and, most importantly, about the individuals making their homes there.

While First Place’s history spans nearly two decades and fills the cabinets and shelves of our “peace room,” six current lessons come to mind. I’ll be sharing one each week as we gear up for the First Place Global Leadership Institute Fall Symposium from October 24-26, our fourth since the first semi-annual gathering in April 2017. Check out details and register here. Space is limited.

Lesson #1: Build a trusted team that can agree—and agree to disagree

Developing real estate can be a long and winding road, complete with right turns, wrong turns and U-turns. Market cycles play a big role, as do finances, local jurisdictions, neighbors and, most importantly, vision.

First Place has benefitted greatly from the unwavering commitment of private, public, philanthropic and nonprofit leaders who never stopped believing in our vision, empowering us to follow through on the completion of our first innovative property and to begin planning for others.

Building trust is critical—trust in expertise, judgment and in each other—as is knowing all team members are in your corner, even when they don’t agree. A unanimous decision from a board of directors often requires active, detailed discussion and significant time after which unexpected solutions often come to light. In our case, those solutions required angels. We found those angels among our most trusted advisors who had been providing us with counsel, clarity and resources for more than a decade.

Remember to keep those angels close. They will watch over you and protect you. And remember these three pieces of wisdom shared by one of our very own:

We look forward to sharing more soon and welcoming you to the October symposium!

Natural light shines brightly into First Place–Phoenix. Every apartment has multiple windows, including one in each of the 79 bedrooms.

Natural light is just one of the important features thoughtfully incorporated into the design of First Place–Phoenix. It’s one of 10 design goals and guidelines included in Opening Doors, a groundbreaking report we produced nearly a decade ago in collaboration with the Urban Land Institute, ASU and SARRC (our sister nonprofit, the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center).

First Place integrates supportive, economic design elements that best respond to the specific needs and aspirations of our residents:

After more than 20 years in the making, we have gone to great lengths to create a very special place for adults with autism and other special abilities.

Additional apartment units have been released for immediate leasing. For more information about availability, contact us at info@firstplaceaz.org. You can also join us for a tour on Wednesday, Aug. 15 or Friday, Aug. 17.

First Place–Phoenix offers a supportive, purposeful and modern environment they can call home—including a room with a view to all of the possibilities for a more productive, joyful and independent life.