Congrats to the First Place Transition Academy Class of 2021!

Congratulations to members of our fifth graduating class, who enthusiastically participated in this month’s in-person and Zoom convocation ceremony, followed by time to celebrate with family, friends and staff at ever-supportive GateWay Community College in Phoenix. Graduates share their insights on the experience in this video

Special gratitude goes to our partners at SARRC who have shown remarkable leadership from the classroom to clinical sessions—and everything in between—guiding students to program completion and new, exciting paths to more independent living.

Named First Place Transition Academy managing director earlier this year, brad herron-valenzuela has been busy with enrollment and orientation for the Class of 2023, as well as community reintegration plans with new and longstanding community partners. Thank you, brad, for all your years of service through SARRC—and where your dynamic leadership is also taking us as director of the First Place Global Leadership Institute Center for Education, Training & Employment.

Don’t Miss “In A Different Key” at August Phoenix Film Festival

The Arizona premiere of “In A Different Key” at the Sedona International Film Festival this month was a great success, where it was honored with best documentary in the 2021 Audience Choice Awards category. The highly anticipated documentary is about the history of autism and the tracking of the very first case recorded in the U.S. Check out this recent review by Herb Paine, senior contributing editor and lead reviewer for BroadwayWorld Phoenix’s Metro Region. Paine shares how the film “strikes chords that resonate with compassion and humanity and elevate our understanding of and connection with the autistic community.” The schedule is now available for the Phoenix Film Festival that runs from August 12 through August 22. Don’t miss this extraordinary film offering a first-of-its-kind look at autism in the U.S.

Harkins Theatres Scottsdale 101

(7000 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85054)

  • Saturday, Aug. 14 at 2:15 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 15 at 5 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17 at 5:05 p.m.

First Place Launches Creighton Medical School Elective

In association with First Place’s on-site Virginia G. Piper Health Spot clinic and Dignity Health’s clinical team, the new summer elective for Creighton University’s School of Medicine medical students is ready to launch. Based at First Place–Phoenix and including weekly experiences at a collection of community-based organizations, the elective is designed to empower the next generation of medical professionals with a whole-person perspective of and approach to treating adults with autism and other neurodiversities.

In June, First Place launched the 360 Health & Wellness® curriculum for First Place residents and their family members with a summer workshop series designed to help them to take the lead in managing their health and wellness throughout their lifetimes. Creighton students will complete a companion series during their elective. They will learn how to complete biopsychosocial interviews with adults with autism, participate in community life activities alongside First Place residents, experience autism-focused programs in Phoenix, shadow clinic visits and partner with First Place residents on health and wellness goals—all with a focus on the impact of key social determinants of health.

First Place is also proud to collaborate with SARRC, the Arizona Autism Charter School, New Way Academy and Gateway Academy to provide Creighton medical students with rich opportunities to go beyond the clinic to observe firsthand the successes and challenges that shape healthcare interactions. As we’ve learned through opening the Health Spot clinic and providing access to COVID-19 vaccinations, preparation, planning and partnership with adults with autism can yield lasting benefits. 

First Place Community Life Adapts to Valley Summer

Summer in Phoenix requires lots of creativity to keep cool. First Place–Phoenix residents and Transition Academy students have enjoyed weekly “dine and dip” time by the pool with delicious food from the grill and a chance to socialize. Zumba is also back in the mix. Residents and staff alike are collaborating to keep community life active and fun throughout the summer months in the Valley of the Sun!

Medicaid Seminar Offers Insights from Local Healthcare Leaders

First Place is always eager to learn more about Medicaid’s impact on healthcare access and outcomes—especially how they affect our residents and special populations in general. At the recent Arizona for Better Medicaid webinar “How Medicaid Managed Care Works in Arizona,” we joined other community partners to hear more from healthcare leaders from Phoenix Pediatrics, UCP of Central Arizona, Arizona Association of Health Plans and the Autism Society Medicaid Advocate. The panel discussed Arizona’s holistic, integrated approach to ensure access to high-quality healthcare for individuals and families enrolled in AHCCCS health plans.  They also discussed opportunities to further integrate services and supports for individuals eligible for DDD-ALTCS.

Take a Virtual Tour of First Place–Phoenix This Summer

We’ve lined up plenty of virtual tours to fit any schedule this summer. Join us online to learn why “We’re the place for that” at First Place–Phoenix. Get a firsthand look at our innovative property and the many supports and amenities offered to encourage and guide adults with autism and other neurodiversities on their journeys to more independent living.

Farm Express is back!

Thanks to this amazing health initiative from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, First Place–Phoenix residents, Transition Academy students and staff can once again shop for farm-fresh, local produce from the comfort of home. With Farm Express’s minibus chock full of freshness coming to First Place twice a month, everyone can stock up on some cool, nutritious fruits and veggies for these hot summer days. We’re grateful to have such great, health-conscious community partners!

By Maureen Casey

Encouraging and helping people with autism and other neurodiversities receive the COVID-19 vaccine is an important way we can more quickly return to our regular activities, including all-important employment. Before the pandemic, over 75% of residents of First Place–Phoenix, a supportive housing community for people with autism, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injuries and other different abilities, were engaged in vocational activities.

Many First Place residents were the first in the community to be furloughed at the start of and throughout the pandemic. Instead of leaving for jobs or volunteer opportunities each day, they found themselves confined to the property. To address this limitation, more than 1,200 community events were hosted last year – each including temperature checks, disinfecting, limited participation and physical distancing. The silver lining included more shared activities through on-site volunteer initiatives like Kind It Forward and more than 4,500 acts of kindness! The collective memory of what we achieved and celebrated continues building our community and friendships.

As a supportive housing provider, access to vaccinations is an important way to support the health and wellness of residents and students. First Place recently collaborated with Scottsdale Physicians Group to provide COVID-19 vaccines. Many individuals with autism need specific information detailing the process. To address this, we developed a plan that included a series of emails and webinars to introduce the opportunity, explain the process and answer questions. We learned about helpful ways to prepare for getting vaccinated, including bringing along a comfort item and planning simple, post-vaccine meals.

This brief video of the vaccination drive offers added insights into lessons learned from start to finish.

We also shared some of those lessons with other community collaborators and assisted with planning and staffing the Special Olympics COVID-19 vaccine events at Ability360. This amazing local nonprofit and advocate for people with disabilities and their families provided access for individuals with developmental disabilities and physical disabilities, as well as those who are deaf, hard of hearing or blind.

To date, approximately 80% of First Place residents and Transition Academy students have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. We’re especially excited about employment partner The Precisionists, Inc.’s newest Innovation & Technology Center just opened in Phoenix. We continue reaching out to our existing and actively seeking prospective employment partners and look forward to supporting one another as we dust off resumes, choose the right professional look and get back to work—something everyone has been talking about for months!

Maureen Casey is director of the First Place Global Leadership Institute’s The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Center for Public Policy & Colonel Harland Sanders Center for Applied Research.