Lightening the Weight of the World—Together

April 7, 2022

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

I’m sensitive. Always have been. As a kid, it caused me to carry too much weight on my shoulders, worrying about family, health and the pressing issues of the day. As an adult, I worried endlessly about our son Matt’s autism diagnosis and whether he would ever speak. Then he surprised us at age 4 by spelling words—like octagon, triangle, rectangle—with sidewalk chalk! A year later, he began singing in a loud, clear, sweet voice while on horseback—and on my back, too! In those special moments, all that weight felt just a bit lighter.

The burden returned during the trying times of getting him to eat something other than pureed food—and the leather on our couch and in my car. Then it would lift again through his love of baking and mastering egg cracking at an early age, skills he still enjoys today.

While I stopped carrying Matt around decades ago, the crushing weight of his issues and those of the broader autism community persisted. Early on, I learned to compensate for my small frame through strength-training and problem-solving. Fortunately today, the strength of our connected community is carrying more of the load and moving us all forward.

As the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center celebrates its 25th anniversary, it also sustains a proud legacy of addressing prevailing issues head on and a history of steady, solid advancements in this ever challenging field.

As First Place® AZ marks its 10th anniversary, I recall countless stories and lessons for how we’ve positioned the charitable nonprofit for transformational societal impact addressing housing and community development for individuals with autism and other neurodiversities. To ensure options are as bountiful for people with different abilities as they are for everyone else, we must build a supportive, sustainable community—beyond the four walls of a home—where they can live and thrive.

First Place is focused on matching the diverse interests and needs of individuals with the right property location, design and amenities—rooted in communities everywhere. A new generation of dynamic housing models is contingent upon collectively tapping the strengths of the private, public, nonprofit and charitable sectors.

When another mother on a mission recently asked me whether I ever imagined back in 1997, the year I co-founded SARRC, that it would be where it is today, I paused. How could I possibly have envisioned the present-day power of its senior leadership and board, strength of its 220-person staff, stable $18 million operating budget, robust research, model programs and so much more?

But I did envision what I needed as a parent, how I wanted to feel and how every person and family member impacted by autism wanted to feel: less burdened. We needed to know we were not alone. We needed hope and to be able to not only dream about a brighter future for our kids but also to get a decent night’s sleep knowing others were in our corner. We had to believe our adults children could one day have a friend, a job and a home of their own.

As sister nonprofits, First Place and SARRC share a common vision for all these things, as well as a common goal to lift the burden from too many families searching for answers. For all our present-day problems, we need healthy hearts and minds infused with purpose and hope, loving family members, good friends—and so importantly—a supportive community.

Always stronger together!


Join us to experience the power of community during SARRC’s Annual Community Breakfast, Thursday, April 14, at the Arizona Biltmore and a private screening of the award-winning autism documentary, In A Different Key, Sunday, May 15 at the Madison Center for the Arts.

Learn more about our collaborative efforts to lighten the load at A Place in the World: Fueling Housing and Community Options for Adults with Autism and Other Neurodiversities.

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