One First Leads to the Next at 11th Global Leadership Institute Symposium

We took many significant steps forward together at this year’s symposium held in person in Phoenix and via webinar. Participants joined us for an agenda packed with local and national experts in the fields of autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities, housing, healthcare and employment. We’re especially grateful to keynote speaker Dr. Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health and author of Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health.

Videos presented at the symposium included a closer look at the ongoing, groundbreaking work of the First Place Global Leadership Institute, as well as an informative spotlight on several licensees of the unique Learn4Independence® life skills curriculum—and the expansion of transition programs across the country.

October LNCS Session with Vanderbilt Professor Dr. Erik Carter

Participants enjoyed another informative and free LNCS session with Erik Carter, PhD, special education professor at Vanderbilt University. Through the lens of his invaluable expertise in how to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in schools, workplaces and everyday communities, Dr. Carter shared how we can collaborate to create a sense of belonging in places struggling to widen their welcome.

LNCS (Lifelong Networks for Communities of Support, pronounced “links”) is a group of parents and family members of adults with autism and other neurodiversities who are committed to coaching and connecting families to achieve action-oriented outcomes. The goal of LNCS is to help pave the way to more independent and joyful living for individuals—and peace of mind for families.

A Resounding “YES!” for SARRC

Everyone is thrilled with the success of Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center’s second annual YES Day for Autism this month at Tempe Beach Park. Attendance was double last year’s! The First Place AZ team was there to learn and connect with our ever-expanding supportive community and share information about the First Place–Phoenix Apartments and Transition Academy residential life skills program. We are grateful to SARRC, First Place and collaborators across the state who support the autism community each and every day.

First Place Takes an Arizona Autism Charter Schools Tour

We’re always inspired by the ability of kids to learn at every age. First Place AZ Founder and President/CEO Denise D. Resnik and Director of the Maricopa County IDA Center for Education, Training & Employment brad herron valenzuela recently toured the new Arizona Autism Charter Schools campus in Peoria. Open since Aug. 1 and energized with more than 130 K–3 students, this unique and much anticipated school is primed for growth, thanks to Diana Díaz-Harrison—unstoppable lead founder and executive director—for the dreams and opportunities she and her dedicated team are making possible. The Arizona Autism Charter School is also a licensee of the First Place Learn4Independence® curriculum helping young adults learn independent living skills before leaving high school.

Community Life Alive and Well at First Place

Check out the many fun activities that kept First Place–Phoenix residents engaged and on the go this month. 

Painting pretty pumpkins: First Place–Phoenix residents and Transition Academy students got into the fall spirit this month with personalized seasonal décor by painting their own mini pumpkins with various autumnal colors to add some seasonal warmth to their apartments.

“Pawsitive” friendships of a special kind: Residents had a “pup-tastic” time meeting some friends from Pawsitive Friendships this month. Founder/CEO Tosha Tharp-Gaitanis and Jacques, French Bulldog and charming mascot, came from the animal-assisted therapy nonprofit to teach participants about the differences among service dogs, emotional support animals and therapy dogs—and how they can provide different forms of valuable assistance to individuals with autism and other neurodiversities.

“Frozen” chosen as next First Place musical! On the heels of the smashing success of their performances in “The Wizard of Oz” this past spring, the talented residents and Transition Academy students at First Place–Phoenix are excited about their next musical! It’ll be another production with the help of ASU undergraduate and graduate students led by First Place friend and director Jacob Buttry, along with new friends Zoe Tyler, assistant director, and Ryan Ulrich, choreographer. Rehearsals are in full swing, with the cast benefiting from workshops on consent and comfortable physical boundaries—and working to create a thriving, creative environment for everyone.

First Place fashion show: Residents recently strutted their stuff down the red carpet after working together to master proper personal hygiene for important events, like job interviews or a fancy celebration, as well as everyday-life situations—another important step in their journeys to independence. To celebrate, they dressed to the nines to enjoy the benefits of improved self-care…and show off a bit!

“In a Different Key” Premieres on PBS in December

Tune into your local PBS station December 13 for the premiere of the award-winning documentary “In a Different Key” about the first-ever child ever diagnosed with autism, now an 89-year-old man living in Forest, Mississippi. The film is based on the 2016 Pulitzer-prize finalist book of the same name written by renowned journalists and co-producers Caren Zucker and John Donvan.

First Place and SARRC are featured in the film, along with Zucker’s son Mickey, who resides at First Place–Phoenix. Gather family and friends around a big bowl of popcorn to enjoy and be inspired by this extraordinary film.

New Online Resource Addresses Autism and Grief

A new website called to help adults, families, clergy and other professionals understand, validate and support the grief experiences of adults with autism was recently launched by the Hospice Foundation of America. Funded by the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, the goal of this unique and much-needed website is to inspire a healthy understanding of grief and loss for autistic adults.

“The NLM Family Foundation is aware that the experience of being marginalized or ignored during times of grief is far too common in the autism community,” says program officer Beth Zwick. “We are delighted to have partnered with Hospice Foundation of America, the premier grief expert, to create this informative and accessible website.” Learn more at

By Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO, First Place® AZ

From the earliest days of designing First Place–Phoenix, we used the concept of kintsugi—the Japanese art of golden repair—to describe our approach to creating, developing and connecting home and community.

Kintsugi is a centuries-old art form. The artist smashes a perfect piece of pottery and then repairs it with gold resin to take its strength, beauty and uniqueness to even greater heights—a metaphor for the life lesson that you can pick up and reassemble the pieces as you learn to embrace and honor the cracks of human imperfection—and our perfectly imperfect communities.

Today, more than ever, kintsugi serves to enjoin the many facets of life at First Place in a special, bonding way that builds personal relationships in particular and community in general.

For example, we have allocated generous space to common areas for gatherings and chance interactions. That resin is also ever-present in so many welcoming locations throughout Greater Phoenix, acknowledged by PBS NewsHour as “the most autism-friendly city in the world.”

Over the past 15 years, however, that common gold resin unifying our communities around the globe has been diminished. According to Noreena Hertz in her book, The Lonely Century, “physical spaces where people of all stripes can come together, interact and form bonds have been severely neglected at best and at worst actively destroyed starting around the time of the 2008 financial crisis.” Hertz notes that this was also “accelerated markedly…as government policies of austerity took a sledgehammer to libraries, public parks, playgrounds and use of community centers across much of the world.”

Hertz goes on to note so presciently: “Why this matters so profoundly is because such places are not only where we come together but also where we learn how to do so, places where we practice civility and also democracy and its inclusive form, by learning how to peacefully coexist with people different from us and how to manage different points of views. Without such spaces that bring us together it’s inevitable that we will pull ever further apart.

“Our health, it seems, is molded not only by community and a feeling of being connected to others but also by kindness. The kindness of friends and family, colleagues, employers and neighbors—but also the kindness of strangers. As we rebuild our post COVID-19 world, we need to remember this.”

First Place successfully pivoted from the negative to the positive with our COVID-inspired Kind It Forward® initiative that served to help rebuild our community in just the way Hertz articulates.

As we continue to face the unexpected upheaval of the recent past and the challenges of an ever more uncertain future, creatively practicing kintsugi can be the catalyst for needed connection and strengthening in myriad ways. It starts with each of us—and ends with all of us.

Connect with us online or in person during the 11th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium, Oct. 19–21. Register today!