Next month, Matt will be transitioning to First Place–Phoenix as his new home. The past few months have been more like day camp in advance of this big-step, sleep-away adventure.

With the support of staff, our health and wellness coordinator and the ecosystem of family and friends, my husband Rob and I are experiencing a wide range of emotions as Matt soon becomes a full-time resident.

For several years, he has been learning how to ride the Valley Metro light rail, purchasing his ticket, monitoring his stops and disembarking at Thomas and Central, just a few blocks away from where First Place–Phoenix now stands.

Those train rides have prompted lists and more lists for his successful transition from our family home to a home of his own:

Matt has been spending most days at First Place, practicing independence by proudly wearing his keycard for secure access, entering his apartment, raising the blinds, adjusting the thermostat and checking his detailed schedule—updated daily—on his ubiquitous iPad.

Matt’s days continue to be filled with work at SMILE Biscotti. His growing list of activities includes workouts in the First Place fitness room, joining the sports pool aquatics class, chilling in the Lego Lounge and learning about his new friends and neighbors.

We’re already adding new items to the list of what’s next through parent training with the First Place and SARRC teams. As parents, we’re also anticipating Matt’s first night away from home. For us, there are lots of emotions: from joy and confidence to sadness and worry—which is our job as parents, right?

We’re looking forward to the many life lessons we’ll all be learning in the days and years ahead as we continue to ensure Matt’s well-being, while he pursues his interests with old and new friends and benefits from our incredibly supportive community.

One of the biggest and most consistent challenges over the years has been the process of creating a property for everyone, taking into consideration individual levels of need, resources and dozens of other variables. We don’t all live in the same type of communities or homes, so what makes us think that individuals with special needs should?

Consider the budding development of a market for senior housing some 50 years ago here in the Valley, when Del Webb broke ground on Sun City—the first and only retirement option for seniors at the time. Fast forward to present day and the many choices available to seniors, including locations, price points, amenities and services, as well as a focus on vital health and mobility issues. Today’s seniors also have the opportunity to repurpose their careers and pursue a plethora of hobbies and interests.

That’s the kind of marketplace we need to develop for special populations. We also need to recognize that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and that understanding the needs of each market is critical to success for both the developers and those they serve. While real estate is an important component, how a property lives, breathes and connects to the broader community is equally important and cannot be overlooked in the short- and long-term planning process.

For the last 20-plus years, we’ve been building a supportive community in Phoenix through the hard work and dedication of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), the Arizona Autism Coalition—and First Place AZ, added to the mix in 2012.

As you determine your vision and who you’re serving, remember this powerful word: attainable. Focus on what is attainable today by learning more lessons, attracting more attention, and building your reputation and brand. A realistic approach takes time and patience, but the outcome—knowing and meeting the specific needs of your market—is worth the wait.

Please join us to continue the conversation and share many more lessons at this fall’s First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium, October 24-26. There’s still much to learn from each other and so much more we can do and build by working together!