After an exciting, jam-packed week, the very first Transition Academy participants can now call themselves graduates! Last Wednesday, the graduates were honored at a special convocation ceremony and lunch at GateWay Community College in Phoenix. Thursday was the actual graduation ceremony. The week wrapped up on Friday with a leisurely, delicious brunch at 29 Palms generously provided by First Watch. Family members, friends and SARRC and First Place staff gathered to mingle and reminisce. The big take-away was everything they learned over the last two years on their way to living more independent and joyful lives. Great things await our graduates!

A few graduates took the time to share their insights when asked to weigh in on the following:

1) Someone you know is interested in attending the Transition Academy and is asking you questions about your experience there. What advice would you give that person to get them started?

2) Tell us about one of your most special memories from the past two years.

By Denise D. Resnik, Matt’s mom; To students at GateWay Community College, who have welcomed differently abled adults on campus through the First Place Transition Academy, allowing our First Place students to benefit from campus life and life skills classes while also benefitting from employment opportunities and a supportive culture.

To employers that are opening doors more easily and broadly, recognizing the skills and abilities of individuals with autism and other special needs, and bringing out goodness and kindness in co-workers.

To customers who learn about SMILE Biscotti and become enthusiastic promoters, helping us spread the word that individuals with autism are productive, contributing members of our community.

To the families who walk through the doors at SARRC, entering as overwhelmed, worried strangers and leaving as friends empowered with resources, support and, most importantly, hope.

To the grocery store shopper in aisle 10, who volunteered to rummage through my purse for Matt’s seizure medication when he fell into my arms during last week’s grand mal seizure, easing the stress of a very stressful situation.

No longer are we strangers. We are moms, dads, neighbors, friends, employers and communities working together to write new history for how adults with autism and other special abilities are paving the way for our society to be more aware, accepting and engaged –giving us all more reasons to smile.

Please join us in spreading holiday cheer this season through your acts of kindness, compassion and sharing.

By Sydnee Schwartz, Contributing Writer

Students at the First Place Transition Academy have been learning a lot since they moved in. They are finding the importance in knowing how to balance jobs, school and free time, as well as adjust to living independently. They have also been focusing on three main areas of independence and adulthood: developing friendships, meal planning and taking care of their space.

Developing strong friendships is an important aspect of adulthood. The students at First Place take a course at GateWay Community College to help them with the fundamental tools of bonding with peers in their everyday lives. “The most important thing I learned was that friendships are a process,” said student Jake, “you want to work slow, see their interests, and find out if they would make a good friend for you.” Many of the students have already applied these tools to their classmates and neighbors, and have created budding friendships. “I enjoy hanging out with my neighbors and friends. It helps create a good community to be around,” Jake added.

Students have also learned things like making a menu, planning and shopping for meals, cooking new foods, and the importance of budgeting. Many of the residents enjoy cooking and enjoy the process and independence that comes along with making your own meal. It’s been an adjustment for them to figure out what meal they want, budget for the ingredients, and prepare it on their own, but they are handling the task well. New resident Max said his cooking is still a work in progress, but he hopes to learn to make foods like enchiladas and pastas.

Another important focus is apartment maintenance. Fridays are cleaning days, and the students are expected to divide cleaning responsibilities with their roommate to keep their space nice and clean. “Learning the importance of cleaning has been a good experience,” said current student Josh. Many of the students find cleaning to be easy and see the benefit in a clean space, but had trouble adjusting to task. “There were a lot of ups and downs, but overall, I like the independence,” Josh’s roommate Jake said.

The students here are really enjoying their adulthood and the community they are involved in. “Living at First Place has been good,” Josh said, “I feel like I will be able to apply what I learn here to my life when I am done with the program.” The students like the environment they are in; they are forming strong friendships, and they are confident that the skills they are learning now will help them succeed.