SARRC’s 2022 Annual Community Breakfast Shares Theme of “Better Together”

Congratulations, Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, on reaching an incredible milestone—25 years! We look forward to celebrating with you at the 2022 SARRC Annual Community Breakfast, Thursday, April 14 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at the Arizona Biltmore. Read more about their story here.

To mark SARRC’s 25th anniversary, co-founder and First Place AZ founder and president/CEO Denise D. Resnik has shared a blog with personal reflections, favorite memories and insights on progress made over the last quarter century.

How Clouds & Clocks Can Help Us Make Headway in Healthcare

Clouds and clocks can be creative metaphors when addressing the complex challenges associated with housing, healthcare, research and systems change, as described in this blog by First Place CEO Denise D. Resnik and the First Place Global Leadership Institute’s Maureen Casey.

Join us from 12–1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30 for the FREE virtual workshop, Health Starts at Home: What You Can Do Today! Learn more about First Place’s innovative 360 Health & Wellness® curriculum and new technologies helping support you and your family member in the successful transition from adolescent to adult healthcare.

Medical Students + First Place–Phoenix Residents = Unique Learning Opportunities

First Place–Phoenix has started a new collaboration with Creighton University’s School of Medicine pharmacy/occupational therapy students. First Place Director of Support Jessica Luna and the Creighton University students are working with residents and Transition Academy students to help them better understand the importance of medication adherence and create a process to simplify refilling medications. Creighton students are also learning about the challenges special populations face with medication management and what they can do to help bridge the gap.

First Place Forever Legacy Member Profile – Judy Ackerman

It seems appropriate that Judy Ackerman would be our inaugural member profile. Not only is Judy one of our very first “First Place Forever” legacy giving donors, but she has also inspired and helped lead our arts and culture programs over the past several years. In November 2021, Judy’s wonderful husband, Richard Epstein offered a $15,000 challenge grant to benefit First Place—an organization close to their hearts—in honor of her 90th birthday. Family and friends rose to the challenge with donations now funding First Place’s 2022 Year of Adventure!

“When making a gift, we consider the people, purpose and our trust in both,” says Judy. “We also follow our personal passion to make a difference. At first, I committed to this cause because of Matt and Denise. Then I learned more about the urgent need for families caring for children of every age as they questioned, ‘Who will care for them when I’m no longer able?’” 

Judy adds that “we’re doing what we can to help answer that daunting question—not only for people living at First Place–Phoenix, but also through the work and impact of the First Place Global Leadership Institute. Richard and I have attended several Institute events, where we have experienced that impact firsthand.”

Save the Date to Follow First Place Down the Yellow Brick Road!

First Place–Phoenix residents have been hard at work with rehearsals for their first-ever foray into acting. Thanks to a collaboration with ASU Design & Arts Corps—and funding from the Arizona Commission on the Arts—First Place is excited to be performing The Wizard of Oz at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Doors open at 7 p.m. Masks are required. Feel free to contact Lexie Egerer at for more information. We hope you’ll join us to see what budding acting careers might be in the making! Register here.

Coaching • Connecting • Creating Confidence in the Future

We’re excited to share that Lifelong Networks for Communities of Support (LNCS) is back! LNCS (pronounced “links”) is a group of parents and family members of adults with autism and other neurodiversities, who are helping coach and connect other families to help loved ones achieve their independent-living goals. 

The March 2 session (with another planned for May) featured Matt Miller—avid outdoorsman, ultra-runner, baseball fan, writer, speaker, coach and self-named “survivor”— who lost most of his fingers and toes to frostbite during a 2002 mountain-climbing expedition in Mexico. A Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC®) with Versant Capital Management, Inc., Matt is dedicated to helping parents and caregivers of those with special needs or disabilities plan for care while guiding families through complex financial decisions and benefits systems. The agenda also addressed being financially prepared for the future and included parent-facilitated discussion. Look for May details soon!

Tax Credit Time! ⏱

Celebrating our 10th year as First Place AZ reminds us how far we’ve come in realizing our big vision, thanks to the generous support, encouragement and enthusiasm of our donors, families and friends! With a few weeks to go before the April 15 deadline, we’re reaching out about that convenient, easy, annual way to give: the Arizona tax credit. It offers a dollar-for-dollar credit for donations made to qualifying charitable organizations like First Place AZ. Individuals can claim up to $400 a year, couples up to $800 a year.

Every dollar counts—and helps keep us on track with our vision to ensure that housing, healthcare and community options are as bountiful for individuals with autism and other neurodiversities as they are for everyone else. You can learn more and donate here. Thank you for your invaluable support!

Слава Україні !

That’s Ukrainian for “Glory to Ukraine!” the country’s patriotic slogan since it declared independence from Russia in 1991. First Place–Phoenix residents and Transition Academy students have taken to the walls of the Cox Community Room to show their support for Ukraine. Using sticky notes in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag, they decorated the windows with peace signs and wishes of hope for all to see. First Place AZ stands with Ukraine!

Community Life Alive and Well at First Place

First Place residents are out and about in the community! Here are just a few of the recent activities that kept residents engaged and on the go in March…

  • Residents recently put their boots and riding helmets on for a horseback-riding adventure at Scottsdale-based HUNKAPI [pronounced hun-kah-pee]. This specialized equine therapy program allowed residents to connect with not only the horses, but also their own thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Riders had the chance to establish a unique bond with their horse and shared experiencing decreased anxiety but increased confidence and patience—all catalysts for positive growth. There was lots of sunshine and laughter to make this yet another memorable First Place adventure!
  • Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) “What Makes Me Me” exhibit. Featuring self-portraits of 35 artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities, this unique exhibit was created to help empower and give them the tools to boost their confidence and tell their own unique stories—and advance the role of self-advocacy in our supportive community.
  • Arizona Science Center’s “Survival of the Slowest” exhibit. In addition to learning about the often-overlooked critters who have learned to survive—and thrive—in a world dominated by faster, larger animals, everyone enjoyed testing the bed of nails and making HUGE bubbles outside!

By Denise D. Resnik & Maureen Casey

Like autism spectrum disorder, the challenge of providing quality housing and community options for adults with autism and other neurodiversities is complex. We can’t solve all problems all at once. But try telling that to the family of a newly diagnosed child without access to early intervention services; or to the adolescent who no longer qualifies for an annual IEP; or an adult who can’t find a job or make a friend; or to the 1.3 million parents over 60 living with their adult child and on an interminable waiting list with thousands before them. The lack of progress is crushing—and the needs are urgent.

To address these enormous challenges, First Place–Phoenix and the First Place Global Leadership Institute have adopted a “cloud and clock” approach. Conceived by Karl Popper—generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of 20th-century science—in the 60s, it’s a methodology that particularly resonates today. 

Consider Popper’s clock. It’s precise and straightforward to fix. Simply disassemble, examine, identify the issue, fix or replace what doesn’t work, reassemble and voilà! Problem fixed.

But how do we address challenges as ever-changing and amorphous as a cloud? Where and how do we begin with innovation and systems change? Our answer: Where we can make the biggest difference!

That’s why we built First Place–Phoenix right in the middle of what PBS NewsHour has called “the most autism-friendly city in the world.” We wanted apartment residents and Transition Academy students to experience more independent living 24/7 while positioning the Institute to learn from those experiences daily.

Following a decade of property siting near local healthcare institutions and the development of curricula and programs, we set our sights in 2021 on improved healthcare outcomes—a focus that continues today.

Thanks to a grant from the Make Waves Family Foundation, we launched a three-part pilot program combining 1) the Board of Visitors-funded First Place 360 Health & Wellness® curriculum, 2) First Place–Phoenix’s on-site Virginia G. Piper Health Spot clinic, and 3) an elective developed for Creighton Medical School students in collaboration with Dignity Health.

Big problems we’re applying a cloud approach to solve:

  • Shortage of competent, confident healthcare providers with a whole-person perspective beyond diagnosis.
  • Trouble communicating symptoms or concerns, making it more difficult for providers to treat people with communication challenges.
  • Organizational issues obtaining health insurance and maintaining medical records.

A few examples of how we’re addressing clock-related issues:

  • Operationalizing First Place–Phoenix’s on-site Virginia G. Piper Health Spot clinic enables residents to receive care right where they live and reduce hospital, ER and urgent care visits.
  • Because autistic individuals often rely on visual prompts, many have been integrated in support of their efforts to minimize exposure to COVID-19 and prepare for Health Spot visits.
  • Since 2021, First Place’s 360 Health & Wellness curriculum workshops have attracted nearly 50 neurodiverse individuals, family members and care providers with the goal of improved navigation of a too-complicated healthcare system—individually and together.

First Place is also developing a pilot with Kiip, a company that works with Amazon Web Services to provide a platform for the secure storage and management of personal vital documents—a digital locker—for easier, more efficient sharing of information among individuals, families and providers.

Improving healthcare for the special populations we serve requires disruption of the status quo, ongoing improvements and years, if not decades, of imparting knowledge to improve overall system access and effectiveness. That’s what we aim to do daily at the Global Leadership Institute as we constantly assess what’s working—and what must work better.

We need more pioneers with the tools, courage, will, leadership and tools to focus on fixing problems—and applying both cloud and clock methodologies to ensure that housing, healthcare and community options are as bountiful for individuals with autism and other neurodiversities as they are for everyone else.

Denise D. Resnik is the founder and president/CEO of First Place AZ. Maureen Casey is director of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Center for Public Policy and the Colonel Harland Sanders Center for Applied Research at the First Place Global Leadership Institute.

Free Virtual Health Workshop

Join us from 12–1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30 for the FREE virtual workshop, Health Starts at Home: What You Can Do Today! Learn more about First Place’s unique and innovative 360 Health & Wellness® curriculum and new technologies helping support you and your family member in the successful transition from adolescent to adult healthcare.