As any parent understands, seeing a child flourish makes your spirits fly. That’s the same feeling we have at First Place–Phoenix as we watch residents thrive.

Lindsey Eaton, one of our first residents, has approached her job at the Arizona School Boards Association with complete gusto. She is dedicated, energized and gaining so much from her experience there.

As Lindsey tells us, when she first started, she would barely talk to the team and struggled to make eye contact. Now, she speaks freely, makes eye contact, takes initiative on tasks and works independently. She is proud of her performance, especially of a large mailing she is currently working on.

For Boss’s Day on October 16, Lindsey requested to meet with her supervisors. She surprised each of them with a mug and a card. They have become Lindsey’s mentors, helping her advance her professional skills. She also enjoys talking football, family and life with them.

“From the start, Ellen and Kristi have been such amazing supervisors, making sure I know how to do a task by making a sample or by helping me when needed,” says Lindsey. “Also, they continuously include me in company events.”

“A few weeks ago, I helped out at their Law Conference at Camelback Inn and loved it. I saw a few superintendents I knew,” adds Lindsey. “They have also embraced their partnership with SARRC. They came to the 2017 and 2018 Community Breakfasts and will be at the Autism Speaks Walk this weekend, when I will be walking with Team ASBA: Walking for Lindsey. I cannot imagine working anywhere else and look forward to many years at ASBA!”

We all walk with you, Lindsey!

The beautiful plans for First Place–Phoenix were approved in the summer of 2016 with complete sets of drawings and the oh-so-critical financing and permits in place. Final bids from subcontractors during the robust real estate market came in high—really high—at over $18 million. Recognizing that we would be too highly leveraged, the board required us to take a timeout to undertake an extensive value-engineering exercise and proceed with two public zoning variances. Sidelining the process and returning our city-approved plans to the drawing board was painful but necessary.

The single largest expense item of the property was an underground-parking garage costing $2 million to accommodate the number spaces required under the approved zoning. We had already been planning how to use a large portion of the garage for something other than parking, because we knew many of our residents would not drive. A major consideration for selecting our location was its urban orientation, within walking distance of public transit, including light rail. To eliminate the underground parking, we needed to allocate more surface-area space, reduce the size of the first floor of the four-story property and do our best to preserve the significant investment in completed plans.

While the value-engineering timeout undertaken by our board—and involving RSP Architects and contractor hardison-downey construction—was painful, it was also incredibly productive, resulting in a cost reduction of $3 million. This unexpected but crucial timeout also allowed us to get closer to our neighbors, giving them a chance to more actively weigh in on our design and area improvements, as well as to show up at our hearings in support of the new plans. We found ourselves collaborating and enjoying the first of many celebrations together.

Please join us for the fall First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium, October 24-26. There’s much we will continue learning from each other—and so much more we can do and build by working together!

After exploring and evaluating dozens of opportunities, First Place® AZ made serious offers for the acquisition of two parcels of land prior to the purchase of the 1.4 acres where First Place–Phoenix stands today. All were urban-oriented locations. Designs were rendered and proformas created for the two former properties. The third—and current—property was definitely the best choice.

RSP Architects did an excellent job listening to our team, reviewing our research, participating in difficult discussions and crafting a beautiful plan that illustrated the design goals from our 2009 Opening Doors collaborative study and conveyed several key guidelines. With the financing package in place, an approved set of plans from the City of Phoenix and a ceremonial groundbreaking date set, we thought we were ready for nuptials!

Not so fast. The First Place board of directors and our closest advisors recognized that the cost of the building was greater than estimated, our nonprofit would be too highly leveraged and—unless we could demonstrate economic sense and financial sustainability—future properties didn’t look feasible. That’s when we pushed the “pause button” and took a six-month time out to re-assess and value-engineer, resulting in the reduction of $3 million from the original project cost.

That time out served us well. More importantly, we were able to recognize the need to step away to cool our ardor for our original plan, which resulted in significant savings and a sounder replication plan.

There are still a few spots left for the fall First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium from October 24-26. This year, we’re co-hosting a real estate think tank with the Autism Housing Network and other leaders in the field, where we will address the ever-increasing demand for housing. Hope you’re able to join us—so many lessons we can learn from each other!

My older sister Debbie and I played under this very tree more than 50 years ago. Our home, our street and the neighbor’s house seemed so much bigger back then. I vividly recall backyard birthday parties, twilight games of hide-and-seek and our parents teaching us to ride the bike with wobbly training wheels.

Like the roots of this tree, home was our anchor—letting us grow, learn and celebrate as it provided comfort and helped us build confidence.

In the same way, First Place–Phoenix represents an anchor to residents through a suite of supports, community life and friendships, as well as connections to jobs, healthcare, lifelong education and more. It’s where people are honing their independent living skills, sharing new experiences and creating collective memories that build lasting relationships and community.

Even at this early stage (First Place opened in early July), several of our residents are experiencing things for the very first time as they chart their own paths to more independent, fulfilling lives in their own homes. Here’s what Jenny’s mom reports: First Place has touched our lives, put music in our hearts and tears of joy in our eyes. I spoke with Jenny and she told me she has a job. We are so excited and thrilled! She has learned so much and her independence is soaring. Her own apartment, social activities, friends, cooking, work training and a job…it’s what parents of children with autism dream of. And now, it’s a reality. We are jumping for joy here in New Jersey!”

Riding that bike wasn’t easy at first, even with the training wheels. We fell off, skinned our knees and sought comfort under the shade of that tree before being coaxed to get back on. And then we rode off, more competent and confident, ready to explore again. Go, Jenny, go!