By Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO 

The “boost” on electric bikes offers riders (like me) added confidence on hilly terrain. But what happens when you run out of power? I recently had that very experience. Thanks to my husband and cycling partner Rob cheering me on, I powered through, pushing my heart rate and making those quads burn. My reward for the extra effort? Fresh bagels and cream cheese back at home!

I think of other times we’re pushed to power through—like last month’s graduation ceremony for the eighth First Place Transition Academy class. Each graduate received a Certificate in Life Skills from GateWay Community CollegeFirst Place AZ and Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). First Place’s Learn4Independence® curriculum of 32 semester-length courses, 300 trips to GateWay in Phoenix over two years and those all-important, newly mastered skills for more independent living have helped the grads power through with resilience toward this collective—and individual—sense of life-changing accomplishment.

Beyond classroom instruction, students have applied what they’ve learned out in the broader Phoenix community—named “the most autism-friendly city in the world” by PBS NewsHour—and in their First Place–Phoenix apartment homes.

Supportive communities encourage practice, build skills and instill confidence—not just for adults with autism and other neurodiversities, but for society at large. Together, we navigate and learn from natural consequences when “life happens,” enabling us to grow and power through to see what happens next after we get to the top of the hill.

Congratulations, Class of 2023! You make us proud and remind us what’s possible with people in our corner giving us that needed boost to help us power through.

Registration is now open for the 2023-25 Transition Academy class. Click here to learn more about the program and feel free to reach out to Managing Director brad herron-valenzuela at or call 480.286.2836.

In this inspiring video from the 2023 SARRC Annual Community Breakfast, hear from Lincoln, age 20, a second-year First Place Transition Academy student who shares insights on his personal journey as a young adult on the autism spectrum—and inspires us all!

Congrats, Transition Academy Class of 2023! 

They’ve worked hard to get through classes, apply what they’ve learned and arrive at this milestone. We’re immensely proud of their growth and progress over the past two years—and excited about where their journeys will take them with greater confidence, skills and independence.

Goodmans Chair Hockey a Huge "Goal" for All!

Congratulations to LGE Design Build, the 2023 Goodmans Interior Structures Chair Hockey Champions! It was an evening full of fun, nail-biting games among 16 awesome teams—and First Place–Phoenix residents and Transition Academy students had a blast leading the spirit tunnel. Thanks to all the teams who participated this year, as well as event sponsors—including MillerKnoll, Herman Miller and Knoll Inc.—for supporting First Place AZ!

Goodyear Police Dept. Visit Builds & Benefits Community

Officers from the Goodyear Police Department recently visited First Place–Phoenix for an on-site autism training event, where they learned about the First Place–Phoenix community and Transition Academy. They also broke into groups with residents and students to educate them about police vehicles and gear, as well as practice role-playing police interactions with neurodiverse individuals. The visit was topped off with a Taco Tuesday dinner, where officers and residents learned more about their shared and respective interests. We’re grateful for our collaboration and look forward to future trainings!

Bashas’ Comes Through for the Cause

HUGE thanks to our friends at Bashas’ for supporting First Place AZ during April’s Autism Acceptance Month! With loyal customers making donations at checkout to support First Place, Autism Society of Southern Arizona, Arizona Autism United (AZA United) and Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, Bashas’ raised over $76,000, with each nonprofit receiving $19,000. The Greater Phoenix community’s support of those with autism and other neurodiversities helps ensure the availability of services and programs throughout the Valley.

Denise Chosen as Keynote Speaker for PBJ Event

The June 6 summit is a great opportunity for nonprofit executives to connect with Valley business leaders and participate in enriching, educational workshops. Denise will present “On the Ground & In the Clouds: Visions, Action & New Realities” addressing goals for developing more housing and community options for adults with autism and other neurodiversities. We’re sure Denise will have relevant and memorable insights to share! For more information and tickets, click here.

Discover First Place Transition Academy

Still Time to Register for the 2023-25 Transition Academy Class

May’s Discovery Day events at First Place–Phoenix gave participants the chance to learn more about the Transition Academy and its 32-course Learn4Independence® curriculum, tour our state-of-the-art property, and meet instructors and students.

With clinical services provided by Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), the Transition Academy is a two-year residential program designed for adults ages 18 and older with autism to help them build independent living skills. Contact brad herron-valenzuela at for more information on enrollment now underway for the class of 2023-25 starting in August.

New Round of FREE Courses Announced

The First Place Global Leadership Institute is hosting another round of FREE 360 Health & Wellness courses starting Thursday, June 1 and running through Friday, August 11. Join us on Zoom every Thursday from 4-6 p.m. (MST) to Build Your Peace of Mind Portfolio™. 

Neurodiverse individuals will learn how to prepare for doctor visits, organize their medical documents and be their own best healthcare advocates. Parents/guardians and support providers will learn how to better support their family member’s independence through self-advocacy. Click here for more information and to register.

Prom Night in Hollywood

First Place–Phoenix residents and Transition Academy students shined their shoes, fixed their hair and dressed to the nines to walk the red carpet at a glam-packed, Hollywood-themed prom! Partiers danced the night away to favorite songs with best friends—and even got to take home a special Hollywood star featuring their name for their very own “15 minutes of fame.” 🤩🤩🤩

Destination: Tortilla Flat

A recent Year of Exploration outing was an adventure to remember! First Place–Phoenix explorers took a road trip out to Tortilla Flat where they boarded the Dolly Steamboat to check out and learn more about the diverse wildlife of the Tonto National Forest in the Superstition Mountain Range.

Another Award for In A Different Key

Congratulations to Caren Zucker, John Donvan, Ray Conley and the entire In a Different Key documentary team for receiving the 2023 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Book & Journalism Domestic TV Award. In a Different Key tells the story of autism–starting with the first person ever diagnosed–and how supportive, adaptive communities can help individuals with autism of all ages and their families thrive. It also includes memorable interviews from First Place–Phoenix and SARRC. Learn more about the awards here.

Kudos to a Special First Place Friend

First Place friend Donna Lewen received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Aquatic Exercise Association during the 2023 International Aquatic Fitness & Therapy Conference in Orlando this month. Donna, who has 30+ years teaching therapeutic aquatics, has been teaching various classes at First Place–Phoenix since 2021. Residents always enjoy their time with Donna as they learn new ways to stay fit, along with relaxation techniques for a more soothing state of being.

Upcoming Events

Oct 18-20: 2023 Global Leadership Institute Symposium