"One First Leads to the Next" is Theme for 2022 Symposium

Save the date and join us October 19–21, 2022 for the 11th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium with the theme of “One First Leads to the Next.” We’re offering another convenient hybrid event, with the opportunity to attend in person in Phoenix, Arizona and/or via webinar. Benefit from decades of research and community-building know-how, be inspired by and engage with others from the private, public and charitable sectors—and work with us to help change the world for those we serve. Watch for more details coming soon! 

Everyone in the Pool!

Thanks to the ever-popular Thunderbirds Charities sports pool, First Place–Phoenix residents are finding ways to stay cool now that summer in the Valley is in full swing.

June LNCS Addresses Compelling Issues of Autism and Race

First Place continued its 2022 LNCS programming this month with a compelling visit from Stephanie Keeney Parks, M.A., who is featured in the award-winning autism documentary, “In A Different Key.” A Creighton University alumni and doctoral candidate in anthropology at UCLA, Stephanie focuses on the everyday lives of black parents of children with autism. The impetus for her research is her own experience.

In her presentation titled “Analyzing Inequities Due to Race, Autism and/or Other Neurodiversities,” Stephanie talked about issues of overidentification—or inappropriate or inaccurate psychological identification—by mental health professionals of Black children in special education despite overwhelming evidence the children are not receiving correct diagnoses or access to quality care. She explained that systemic weaknesses must be addressed through recruiting a more diverse workforce, listening to families and enacting policies that more effectively and equitably connect them to the supports and services they need.

Prom Pomp at First Place–Phoenix

First Place–Phoenix residents and Transition Academy students had their very own June prom! Shopping was in full swing in the weeks leading up to big night. Several Sunday brunch and arts & crafts volunteers were on hand to help with those all-important finishing touches. After donning some fresh corsages and straightening ties, partygoers danced the night away “under the sea,” this year’s prom theme. Thank you to all First Place–Phoenix staff who put an incredible amount of passionate effort into making this an unforgettable event for all!

Fruit, Friends & Fauna!

  • Residents got creative with their healthy eating this month! They crafted edible arrangements with colorful fresh fruit—including strawberries, oranges, pineapple, melon, kiwi, blueberries and grapes—on skewers to make some delicious “edible art” for a healthy snack.
  • Besties had the best time on National Best Friends Day! First Place residents honored their besties on June 8 with handmade friendship bracelets and an ever-entertaining photo booth.
  • Gardening instructor Kasie—owner of two very green thumbs—is helping First Place residents liven up their apartments with their very own houseplants! Kasie took some snake plants needing attention from the back of the property and guided everyone on how to properly replant and care for their new green friends.

Community Life Alive and Well at First Place

First Place residents are out and about in the community! Here are several activities that kept residents engaged and on the go this month…

  • First Place–Phoenix residents and Transition Academy students recently took a trip with their friends from Mikey’s League to the Cardinals’ practice facility for a once-in-a-lifetime practice session. The league’s athletes ran some practice drills alongside Cardinals players—and even played a short scrimmage with them! HUGE thank you to Mikey’s League and the Cards for this amazing opportunity to hang with First Place’s aspiring pros!
  • First Place–Phoenix friend Manian recently held another mindfulness activity structured around knowing one’s self-worth and improving self-confidence. Residents and Transition Academy students shared what makes them the person they are and reflected on why it’s important to be mindful of one’s positive qualities. They finished by writing their positive “I am…” statements around a photo of themselves as a personal reminder of their special and unique qualities.
  • Another First Place–Phoenix friend, Linda Levitt, led a sleep miniseries called “PJs and Popcorn.” Everyone came dressed in their pajamas for a casual but informative discussion on the importance of sleep and its overall effect on mental, physical and spiritual health. At each session, participants earned a letter to spell out the word “sleep” and had the chance to get some “sleep swag” that included herbal tea, an eye mask, a sunrise alarm clock, noise machine, sleep journal and essential bath oil. They left rested—and committed to working on their nighttime routines for better sleep habits! 🥱😴

Beat the Heat and Take a Tour with Us This Summer!

More virtual tours of the First Place–Phoenix Apartments and Transition Academy are scheduled for the summer months and into September. Meet the leadership team, take a virtual tour of the First Place–Phoenix community and attend a brief info session/Q&A to learn more about our programs. Register today—space is limited! Come see firsthand why We’re the place for that.®

Our grandson just turned one and with that came his first step. His Uncle Matt turns 31 today and with that comes a collection of his own memorable “firsts:” significant strides, family celebrations and many challenges on his path to a happy, healthy and more independent life.

My list of firsts has also grown over Matt’s lifetime. I’ll never forget his first night alone in his First Place–Phoenix apartment. Or the first time he lost his keycard and knew to go to the concierge to get a replacement. Or the first time he asked his friend Mickey a question about his favorite music—completely unprompted—and acknowledged his answer by playing “Kiss the Girl” from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” on his Alexa Echo for them both. Or the first time he attempted to console his young crying nephew by handing over his iPad—Uncle Matt’s most prized and calming possession.

Whether a young or adult life, life lessons take time—and lots of practice. There are steps, missteps and, if we’re lucky, people there to cheer us on, catch us before we fall or brush us off when we do so we can try again.

As First Place AZ celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year and SARRC its 25th, I’m reminded of all those who made each first, second and so many dreams possible.

The idea that Matt would be part of “the most autism-friendly city in the world,” joyfully living in a home of his own, working, volunteering and learning on a daily basis away from our family home, is no longer a dream of greater independence for him but a reality. Together with Matt’s First Place neighbors and others beyond his front door, we are raising the bar on the quality of life for people with autism and other neurodiversities. And with that comes greater peace of mind for families like ours. It’s also a daily work in progress as we lead First Place AZ through the power of our example: in the Apartments, the Transition Academy and the Global Leadership Institute.

The powerful intersectionality of the unique and dynamic First Place triumvirate is enabling us to teach, train, innovate, research and advance supportive policies creating more firsts for more individuals and families in Arizona, across North America and around the world.

Greater understanding and acceptance of Matt and others with different needs and wants offers us the opportunity to design and build supportive communities that are more responsive and accessible to everyone. It starts early in life, evidenced by his four-year-old niece retrieving his sound-reducing headphones when things get too loud or giving him a high-five with a “good job, Uncle Matt!” at the end of their UNO game.

Happy birthday, Matt! Thank you for guiding and grounding us with lessons for every generation—and the celebration of another first on this day and every day!