September marks three years since our public housewarming event at First Place–Phoenix. Members from our amazing and ever-growing, supportive community came together full of hope to support First Place residents, families, staff and partners for this huge milestone that has set us on a path of building “a diverse community of pride, purpose and endless possibilities.”

10th Symposium a Milestone for First Place

We’re busy gearing up for our 10th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium delivered in person and via webinar October 13–15. Participants can benefit from decades of research and community-building know-how, along with experiences and strategies for navigating opportunities and challenges inherent in real estate and community development.

We’re also excited that a powerful, in-depth three-day program will help build like-minded pioneers’ momentum for more supportive communities, vision, funding needs and healthy outcomes—and inspire and engage others to be part of changing the world for those we serve.

A special kickoff event is planned for the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 13, when we’ll be screening In A Different Key: The Movie, the extraordinary, new documentary about autism featuring Phoenix, First Place and SARRC. Movie time is 3 p.m. at the Arizona Center AMC Theatres. Register today!

Say “Yes!” to YES Day for Autism

We’re excited to join the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) for their first-ever YES Day for Autism.™ Join us on Sunday, Oct. 24 from 8 a.m. to noon at Tempe Beach Park for this new, free and fun event focused on raising funds, awareness and acceptance in Arizona.

SARRC has retired its partnership with the annual Autism Speaks Walk and is introducing YES Day for Autism—a chance to come together to proudly celebrate what’s possible when we work together and share resources to say “yes” to people with autism and their families. And all dollars raised in Arizona stay in Arizona!

Everyone is invited and encouraged to join our efforts: families, friends, partners and the community at large who are driven by a desire to create more supportive, inclusive communities for people with autism. Lots of fun activities are planned for all ages, so mark your calendars!

Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust’s Multi-Million Dollar Surprise

September was a great month for our community—but specifically for First Place AZ and moving the needle on advancements in housing and community development for people with autism and other neurodiversities—thanks to the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust’s beyond-generous, surprise awards to Valley nonprofits. We are so very grateful for the Trust’s unwavering support and the chance to succeed as we work together to be more resilient during these challenging times and well into the future.

First Place Residents Back Out and About

With the high vaccination rate of First Place–Phoenix residents and staff, everyone is eager to get out and participate in group community life activities. A recent outing includes the Immersive Van Gogh Experience Phoenix (with COVID-19 protocols in place). Thanks to the generosity of a First Place donor, participants enjoyed amazing special effects while surrounded by some of the renowned artist’s most famous works—including Starry Night and Sunflowers—accompanied by music from the Italian pianist Luca Longobardi. This was their first major group outing in many, MANY months—and a unique way to take in some of the world’s most iconic artwork.

First Place Residents Huddle Up!

First Place–Phoenix residents and Transition Academy students recently enjoyed their first flag football session with Mikey’s League, a local organization that fosters inclusivity in sports so that everyone, regardless of ability, can experience the joys of accomplishment—especially in a team setting. For the next eight weeks, participants will practice their flag football skills and increase their training capacity before a weekly Friday game alongside other neurodiverse and neurotypical teens and adults. Everyone is ready to bring their A game!

“…My Work Is Never Done.”

In First Place Founder and President/CEO Denise Resnik’s latest blog, “Building Community with All the Right Pieces,” she explores the importance of continuing to build supportive communities, ensuring their foundations are strong and resilient to meet the needs of diverse special populations—and Legos figure into the equation!

Kind It Forward Initiatives Moving…Forward!

Kind It Forward, our ongoing community kindness initiative, has given everyone a chance to get back out and make a difference through group activities, including organizations like the Arizona Animal Welfare League (spending time with and walking furry friends) and Ben’s Bells (making ornaments for the gift shop). More outings are planned for the fall and into the holiday season, thanks to the efforts of our very busy community life coordinator!

Have you ever dumped out one of those Lego kits to build something with your child? All those pieces seem overwhelming until you realize with relief that there are illustrations along with step-by-step instructions to guide you.

But what happens when you’ve added a piece that doesn’t belong or you forgot? We’ve all felt the frustration of having to deconstruct something and start over. And hopefully we’ve all felt the joy and sense of accomplishment of reconstructing something beautiful.

My role as the mother of a 30-year-old son with autism—and as a community developer—means my work is never done. Both propel my constant need to explore how Matt and others like him can live happy, healthy and purposeful lives. They have also made me a kind of Lego master, constructing different strategies and approaches for Matt—but deconstructing them, too. While you may not find me in First Place–Phoenix’s ever-popular Lego Lounge, I often feel like a connector in perpetual motion, focused on building bridges to housing, employment, healthcare, arts and culture, recreation—the list goes on.

While perpetual motion can be energizing, it can also be exhausting. As noted by fellow pioneers, things never happen quite as fast as we might want or need; but when we persevere and collaborate, there’s the chance to create something even more beautiful.

In A Different Key: The Movie, the new award-winning documentary about autism, masterfully depicts how pioneering parents and professionals continue to tenaciously reconstruct expectations in critical areas ranging from education, research and employment to relationships, housing and healthcare—and, perhaps most important, the definition of home and community.

Like people, communities need continuous care and feeding to be strong and resilient. But people and communities are not nearly as precise and predictable as that image on the Lego box or the instructions inside. And if you build it too fast or without all the right pieces, the foundation won’t support what goes on top—or worse, it can collapse.

The power of our examples and our visions have rippling effects for how we respond to diverse special populations with equally diverse needs, interests and geographic preferences. These examples are positive and hopeful, helping us realize change is possible by building a different future from the one prescribed for too many decades by too many with too few tools, training and experience.

I’ll keep exploring as a mother, community developer—and Lego master—as long as it takes to build diverse, collaborative communities that support Matt and so many others like him on their paths to greater inclusion, interconnection and independence. Join us Oct. 13–15 for the 10th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium—and continue filling your toolbox with sources of inspiration that will keep you building!