By Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO

I’ve never seen anyone express as much joy cleaning their home as Matt Resnik. While I doubt he actually enjoys the loud vacuuming or quiet dusting, he certainly values checking things off his list.

From doing laundry and emptying the dishwasher or trash to cleaning all the counters and doorhandles, Matt meticulously advances through each step with confidence, earnestness—and a smile.

Routines and practice over the past several years are paying dividends—not only for Matt, but for his parents and family, too.

We find great joy in knowing how much he loves his independent life at First Place–Phoenix, which includes hanging out in his rocking chair, and watching videos and listening to music whenever he wants. Or helping himself to a bowl of popcorn at all hours (crumbs don’t lie!) and nightly reading with Grammy. And he loves playing Scrabble, Mario Kart and air hockey with friends who teach him new techniques and cheer him on.

Matt’s days are filled with his SMILE Biscotti business, where he’s learning new skills like navigating transportation, entering data and making sales calls with coworkers. He also volunteers each week at the Heard Museum, where he has mastered the library filing system. Wherever he goes, Matt constantly shows us the ways he works at overcoming the myriad challenges of autism as he also teaches us about kindness—and how to listen with our ears, eyes and hearts.

While we don’t know what Matt dreams about at night, as parents we do know we’re living the dream while he confidently continues to build a more joyful, independent life outside of our family home with friends, a supportive community—and a smile.

2023 Symposium Gathering Steam

Reserve your seat for the 12th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium on October 18, 19 and 20! The 2023 event is on track to be one of the biggest and most energizing yet. You’ll hear from compelling speakers on such topics as inclusive community building and neurodiverse relationships. You’ll gain access to decades of research. And you’ll learn about exciting new employment initiatives for adults with autism and other neurodiversities.

Together, we’re actively turning the wheels of change. This year’s symposium will drive us forward with renewed momentum! Learn more and register here. In-person attendance is limited. Please register by Tuesday, September 19.

Featured symposium speakers will be sharing insights on their latest must-see films. Check out trailers for Scott Steindorff’s “Understanding Autism” and Dan Pallotta’s “Uncharitable.”

First Place–Phoenix Resident Gets Personal—About Housing!

First Place Global Leadership Institute staff Maureen Casey and Toyosi Adesoye were recently joined by First Place–Phoenix resident Harry to present current housing data and insights with the Arizona Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. The esteemed trio shared details from the Greater Phoenix Housing Market Analysis, how self-advocates were involved in the process, what the data indicated, and analyses underway in other cities to increase housing and community options for adults with autism and/or other intellectual/developmental disabilities.

Remembering Sue Glawe—First Place AZ & Community Champion

We lost a very good friend this month. Sue Glawe was an early leader for Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), where she served several board terms and introduced us to all kinds of people we “needed to know.” As a champion of First Place AZ, Sue facilitated the first major capital campaign gift from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, where she left an indelible mark over 34 years and ultimately as vice president.

For those of us fortunate enough to call her our friend, Sue was someone we could trust with candid conversation; count on for honest feedback; enjoy at big events, private meals and on long phone calls; and laugh with through her witty lens on life. In many ways, she served as a “leader whisperer,” telling us what and who we needed to know on our leadership journeys through big ideas and unpredictable times.

May our collective, cherished memories continue to bond our hearts and bring her into conversations where we ask, “WWSD?”

We look forward to gathering in celebration of Sue’s remarkable life and lasting legacy on Friday, September 22 at 5 p.m. at the Arizona Science Center.

Community Life…via Video!

This month, we’re offering a series of quick videos for a vivid, vivacious and very fun look at what we’ve been up to at First Place–Phoenix. Take a few minutes to tag along!

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Clever Cooking
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Earth & Space Expedition Center
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Let's Go Shop
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OdySea Aquarium
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Western Spirit Museum
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Zooming with Zumba

Donors Reflect on Their Feelings for First Place

Check out our Donor Appreciation Video Series in recognition of Year 5 at First Place–Phoenix. As we wrap up our weekly Donor Appreciation Video Series in recognition of the fifth anniversary of opening doors to First Place–Phoenix, we’re reminded of the many donors who inspire and delight us—and the many different facets of their experiences as shared by the individuals who took the time to tell us how they really feel! 

New Yoga Pose: Volunteer Position

If you’re a certified yoga instructor who would thrive volunteering in a fun and inclusive environment, First Place–Phoenix would love to meet you. We are a supportive residential community for adults with autism and other neurodiversities—and we need a yoga instructor to teach a class of (about) 10 amazing residents. The details: Monday evenings in mid-town Phoenix, 30–45 minutes, weekly or bi-weekly. Apply to Namaste.

DEI Alive and Well at First Place

Our approach to diversity, equity and inclusion applies to all who interface with First Place, including residents, staff, board members and volunteers. Natasha Grant, MNLM, CESP, First Place’s director of workplace and community inclusion, oversees such activities, prompts important conversations, and creates and distributes an in-house monthly newsletter titled “Divergent Digest.” It sheds a monthly spotlight on relevant current events and their related historical references. Check out the August issue.

By Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO

Recharging. It’s something we do daily and in a variety of ways. Consider the lengths to which we’ll go as we plug in our computers, phones or watches to avoid missing a message or a call.

We’re also willing to go the extra mile to plug in cars or in search of caffeine to make sure we’re supercharged and ready for the day. We even approach total strangers for “a little juice” if we’re really in a bind.

When it comes to your own personal power sources, how far will you go to plug in?

Admittedly, I don’t plug into my pillow as much as I should. Perhaps that’s because I get a charge out of what I do every day and the chance to connect and dream with other trailblazers. I also value moments to disconnect, take deep breaths and re-center through solo hikes or with family, friends and colleagues to explore all kinds of topics—like what’s good for our planet, its people and those we care about most. 

Leadership can be lonely at times. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable when we put our big ideas out there, hoping others grasp and appreciate how hard and fast we’re pedaling to keep it all moving forward.

So how do we stay grounded as we remain steadfast in our commitment to finding sustainable solutions to what stands in the way of more independent living for adults with autism and other neurodiversities? By surrounding ourselves with people we trust, who fortify and inspire and guide us toward what we need to know. That’s how we approach the work of the First Place Global Leadership Institute.

As we plan for the annual symposium this October, we’re cognizant of the myriad ways life is predictably unpredictable—and how trusted sources make us stronger as we navigate diverse, merging paths to get us closer to our goals and dreams for those we serve.

Join us to recharge by plugging into the amazing synergy we produce together as we work to fuel a new marketplace of home, job, healthcare and community options for adults with autism and other neurodiversities. And we’ll have plenty of charging sources available!

First Place–Phoenix Hits 5-Year Mark

July marks First Place–Phoenix’s fifth anniversary since our front doors opened (as did our collective arms) to welcome adults with autism and other neurodiversities and their families to a whole new way of living. Not even in our wildest dreams could we have imagined how these five years would change so many lives—and what a truly supportive community could look like.

In honor of Disability Pride Month, we began a weekly Thursday tribute to those who have enriched beyond measure the last five years—and who are so passionately taking First Place to new heights in such extraordinary ways. We hope you’ll be as inspired as we are by what they have to say!

Take a walk down memory lane with us via these brief videos ranging from the 2016 groundbreaking to our 2018 opening.

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Countdown for Matt
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Save the dates for the 12th Global Leadership Institute Symposium

All aboard! Join us October 18–20, here in Phoenix or online, for the 12th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium. Together, we’re eager to fuel progress on pressing issues in housing, community development, healthcare and employment. We have a full agenda planned, including timely new insights from experts across the country ready to share challenges and successes in their own communities. Learn more and register.

First Place Friends Connect—Across 7,000 Miles!

Friendships flourish at First Place–Phoenix. In honor of International Friendship Day, we’d like to shine a light on a very special bond that developed among three residents: Ava, Jackson and Seri, a First Place Transition Academy student from Lebanon. During Seri’s two years here, the trio were constant companions. After Seri recently graduated and moved back home, they didn’t miss a beat. Their camaraderie continues over lively video chats—with a little extra planning around time zones. Happy International Friendship Day, Ava, Jackson and Seri— your smiles span the globe!

Timely Tips for Social Media and Cyberbullying

Thank you to those who joined us for the July LNCS session featuring Ilana Lowery, Arizona Regional Director of Common Sense Media. Ilana shared timely tips and strategies for safely accessing social media and addressing cyberbullying.

If you couldn’t make it, watch the recording and download the presentation, which includes several links to the detailed tips and strategies from Ilana’s presentation.

Stay tuned for details on the next LNCS event with Amy Gravino, autism sexuality advocate and relationship coach in the Center for Adult Autism Services at Rutgers University. Amy was also featured in In A Different Key, the award-winning 2021 documentary about autism.

First Place Community Life—Alive and Kicking!

A full community life calendar keeps First Place–Phoenix residents and staff on the move each month. Check out what they’re up to!

First Place–Phoenix residents and staff recently escaped the heat with an afternoon at As You Wish Pottery studio to try their hand(s) at creating objects d’art conveying everyone’s unique creativity.

Residents love a little friendly competition—especially when it means jumping in the pool on a hot summer day. The inaugural First Place–Phoenix Water Obstacle Course made quite a splash!

Residents took on the personas of their favorite characters, then jumped in and revved up for another First Place–Phoenix Mario Kart Tournament. Enthusiasts gather monthly in the Arizona Cardinals Game Room on the third floor and go head-to-head in the double-elimination competition. And while it’s just that—a competition—most of their energy went into cheering each other on!

Tag along with residents and staff on a volunteer outing to Arizona Animal Welfare League, an ever-popular First Place community partner. Their favorite AAWL “chore” is keeping the cute critters—canine and feline alike—company.

First Place–Phoenix knows how to celebrate the Fourth of July! Residents gathered around the grill for a classic cookout followed by a cornhole tournament. There was plenty of food and fun celebrating the one thing we love most around here—independence!

Pool Is Perfect Place on International Self-Care Day

Self-care is important for living an independent life. For the adults with autism and/or other neurodiversities at First Place–Phoenix, that means a calendar filled with activities that keep both the body and mind thriving. Some of our favorites are taught by the inspiring Donna Lewen, our aquatics specialist who loves working with First Place residents. In honor of International Self-Care Day, we’re sharing some of the strengthening and restorative therapeutic work they do together.

Flipping Our Wig for the Greater Good

In her latest blog, First Place AZ Founder and President/CEO Denise D. Resnik shares how son Matt’s affinity for her hair, real or fake, brings joy—and surprises.

By Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO

Flip one’s wig (v.): To react to something, good or bad, with strong emotion

Matt loves my hair. Always has. He likes playing with the curls, sticking his nose in them for a whiff and making sure they’re lying on his pillow when we snuggle. While Matt never cared for the wig I wore while I was transitioning from dark to gray, he had no problem announcing Mom’s “wig hair” whenever he reached for it—never mind when we were out in public at the grocery store or pharmacy! 

Several years ago, after a long workday, Matt and I were driving on the freeway. He reached over with loving affection to touch my hair. What happened next was completely unexpected…

Matt pulled the loosely placed wig from my head, placed it on his and proceeded to lower the sun visor to check himself out in the mirror! Not much to do at that point but laugh.

Living with autism and Matt’s honesty, humor, idiosyncrasies and loving ways never ceases to fill our family’s hearts with an endless range of emotions that constantly reminds us of his many gifts.

As the First Place Global Leadership Institute’s 12th symposium, October 18–20, fast approaches, we’re committed to following Matt’s lead and transferring that honesty into candid conversations. Our agenda addresses the challenges, risks and opportunities of housing and community development—and what we can do together to maintain momentum for a new and improved marketplace that includes homes, healthcare, employment and education options for the special populations we so passionately serve.

Join us October 18–20 as we stay on track to drive change—together!

By Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO

Plans for an eight-day trip to Ireland as part of my immersive experience as a Virginia G. Piper Fellow hit big snags in Newark this past weekend. They included flight cancellations, limited routes to Shannon and, even as I write, the unresolved issue of lost luggage upon our unexpected early return to Phoenix. In many ways, I’m reminded of Welcome to Holland, a poem about travel as a metaphor for appreciating the differences of raising a child with special needs—something I’ve shared dozens of times with family members of children diagnosed with autism and other disabilities.

Being trapped for 36-plus hours in the airport without sleep, creature comforts, customer service (in person or online) or the availability of any hotel rooms was dispiriting. The airline finally provided a few cots at 3 a.m., along with some snacks and mini water bottles. As always, my husband Rob offered his quick wit, humor and analytical abilities to help us figure out our best course of action.

Consider the extensive planning for Matt before our departure, like making sure our wills, legal documents and his eight-page Day in the Life summary were updated; detailed daily calendars for First Place–Phoenix support staff, SARRC and family; cash in his wallet for shopping, bowling and dining out; and extra supplies, including several toothbrushes to replace what he mashes almost daily along with food he enjoys preparing himself in neat, portion-controlled bags. 

But wait…there’s more: adjusting daily work schedules along with our weekly routines with Matt; making plans with colleagues and myriad arrangements for my Piper Fellowship field work in Ireland; researching places of interest (Rob had his own including his diligent search for bucket list golf courses); packing rain gear, adapters, euros, etc.—and anticipating what we would need/want to schlep through airports and on the plane; and eating our way through the refrigerator before leaving.

Despite being sleep deprived, we found a few things that saved us: like a $48/hour quiet space designed for exhausted travelers, a free space for meditation, some decent but over-priced food and, most importantly, laughter throughout this unforeseen chance to share our honest feelings and disappointment with each other.

We also witnessed how people find ways to make the most of such situations—like the traveling teen who sat at the public piano during the wee hours sharing her incredible talent with other stranded passengers; the maintenance worker transporting trash while smiling at onlookers as he drummed with one hand to the beat of the bin’s squeaky wheel and pushed with the other. And who could resist smiling at the adorable faces of the children and their bleary-eyed parents as we parted long lines to make room for strollers.

As much as we’d love to be in cool, green, misty Ireland this very moment, we also appreciate that sometimes the trips that get rerouted end up being the most memorable—and a Phoenix-to-Newark-to-LaGuardia-to-Dallas-to-Phoenix journey reminds us there’s no place like home.

Save the Date for the 12th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium!

Save the date and join us from October 18–20 for the 2023 First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium with the theme of “All Aboard! On Track to Drive Change.”

Plans for a new marketplace of housing and community options are picking up steam. Momentum for more equitable healthcare is gaining. Workplace acceptance is charging forward. The bridge to lifelong learning is taking shape. This fall, we’ll gather for this energizing event to add fuel to these powerful engines of progress as we take this remarkable journey—together.

We’re offering another convenient hybrid event, with the opportunity to attend in person in Phoenix, Arizona and/or online. Watch for more details coming soon!

Catch First Place AZ Founder & President/CEO Denise D. Resnik’s latest blog, in which she shares insights on the very early days of her vision for First Place (it includes saltshakers and sugar packets) in advance of the symposium.

Pride Month at First Place

How did you celebrate Pride Month?

  • At First Place–Phoenix, we got creative and made our own tie-dyed Pride cloth grocery bags. Now we can show our colors—and our commitment to sustainability—whenever we’re out and about!
  • James Burns, Ph.D., joined First Place–Phoenix residents for “Let’s Talk About It: Neuroqueer.” Burns shared personal insights, along with his coming-out story and autism diagnosis—and how they all tie together. He provided a safe space for residents to ask questions and feel supported. James Burns, founder of Cypress & Sage Advising specializing in DEAI consulting, is a thought leader in the autism community. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and uses his lived experience as a neurodivergent individual to assist organizations in implementing inclusive practices.

Community Life Keeps First Place on the Go!

A full community life calendar keeps First Place–Phoenix residents and staff on the move each month. Check out what they’re up to!

Everyone showed just how they roll when First Place­–Phoenix residents descended on Great Skate for some turns around the rink. There was an abundance of impressive skills, ample amounts of bravery—and plenty of fun to go around!

First Place–Phoenix residents recently joined Chef Titina in our culinary teaching kitchen to explore the fun and flavorful world of charcuterie boards. Using a variety of meats, cheeses, fruits, nuts and crackers, residents made their own boards, expressing their culinary creativity. Each board was as beautiful as it was tasty.

  • First Place partner Arizona Animal Welfare League offers more than just monthly volunteer opportunities for furry friend-loving residents. On a recent visit to AAWL, First Place Director of Development Sarah Amaral left unexpectedly with Betty, a 10-year-old mostly blind and toothless pup. Betty is already part of the family after settling into her new life of laps and well-deserved spoiling.
  • Namaste. For this month’s International Yoga Day, no one was in a better position to celebrate than First Place–Phoenix residents. Around here, yoga is a regular activity, with weekly classes in flexibility, mindfulness and strength. They even practice yoga nidra, also known as yoga sleep. (We’ll be sure to remember that for World Sleep Day next March 18—and all the days in between!)

Saying Goodbye to Donald Triplett (1934–2023)

First Place AZ and the entire autism community say a loving farewell to Donald Triplett, the first American diagnosed with autism, who has passed away at age 89.

Embraced by his hometown of Forest, Mississippi throughout his lifetime, Don showed us all—neurodiverse and neurotypical alike—the enduring impact of a supportive community. Don was featured in the award-winning 2021 documentary, “In A Different Key: The Movie,” co-produced by journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker (pictured here with Don), who grew to love and admire Don after being drawn into his orbit as they chronicled his life story.

Now is a fitting time to watch—or rewatch—this unforgettable film of Don’s extraordinary life and the lessons he leaves behind for the world. You can also listen to the compelling podcast by Donvan and Zucker titled “Autism’s First Child” and NPR’s powerful, heartwarming three-minute tribute.

First Place Leadership Front & Center in the Local Community

At the 2023 Nonprofit Business Summit recently hosted by the Phoenix Business Journal, First Place AZ Founder & President/CEO and keynote speaker Denise D. Resnik shared a few lessons learned in her decades-long journey helping other nonprofits appreciate the value of learning at every age and power of tri-sector collaboration.

This month’s webinar, sponsored by the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, featured Maureen Casey, First Place AZ director of the Centers for Public Policy and Applied Research. Maureen shared findings from the first-ever Greater Phoenix Housing Market Analysis (GPHMA) administered by the First Place Global Leadership Institute’s Make Waves Center for Community Development.

The study addresses housing needs and preferences of adults living with autism and/or intellectual/developmental disabilities (A/I/DD). The analysis reports on market data, persistent barriers and how the public/private/nonprofit/philanthropic sectors can work together to respond to current and future market demand. Other market analyses are in the works for Salt Lake Valley, Charleston, Omaha and Austin.

First Place Welcomes Maddison Hughes

First Place AZ welcomes Maddison “Maddie” Hughes, who joins us as administrative assistant for the Global Leadership Institute. Maddie’s responsibilities include project management, research and analysis, scheduling and various organizational duties. She holds a BA in Political Science from UCSD and has over 10 years of experience working in the legal field—a true asset to the team!

Maddie moved to Phoenix from Portland, Oregon last year. Her hobbies include working with animal rescue groups, crossword puzzles, reading historical fiction and international travel. She’s been mom to a 6 1/2-year-old Brittany Spaniel mix named Nattino for over three years and describes him this way: “He’s the best/worst/cutest/smartest/dumbest/stubbornest genius/idiot/snuggler/escape artist on the planet!”

Another Transition Academy Graduating Class Powered Through

In a recent blog, First Place AZ Founder & President/CEO Denise D. Resnik shared insights on how Transition Academy class of 2023 graduates are “shining examples of powering through.”

Learn more about this groundbreaking two-year, residential life skills program. Registration is now open for the 2025 Transition Academy class.

We’re also excited to announce the availability of our Learn4Independence®curriculum for non-resident students starting this August at GateWay Community College in Phoenix. Students can benefit from life skills courses in finance, safety, relationships, career readiness and much more.  

This unique series of courses is taught by instructors from our sister nonprofit, Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), and offered to adults ages 18 and older with an autism diagnosis. (Fees cover classroom attendance but do not cover SARRC clinical services.) To learn more, contact Eaugelique Ware, SARRC Family Resource Supervisor.

Article Spotlights Ambassadors for Accessible Travel

Inspired by the extraordinary Harriet Schleifer, a group of Connecticut residents—adults with disabilities, their parents and staff members who work with them—spent nine unforgettable days in Israel learning about accessibility in the Jewish state thanks to a joint program of the Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, the nonprofit Access Israel and its U.S. partner Accessibility Accelerator. Chapel Haven offers a residential program for neurodiverse adults and is a licensee of the First Place Learn4Independence® life skills curriculum. Read what they learned about being advocates for inclusive, accessible travel—and what the rest of the world can learn from them!

July LNCS: Source of Connection or Destruction – How Can We Tame the Beast and Not Lose Our Friends?

Mark your calendars for the next LNCS session the afternoon of Thursday, July 19. Ilana Lowery, Arizona regional director of San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, will delve into pressing issues and share timely tips and strategies for safely accessing social media and addressing cyberbullying. Learn more and register to attend in person or online here.

LNCS (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.

By Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO

Long before a shovel of dirt was ever turned, I had been turning sugar packets, saltshakers, salsa dispensers—and whatever else I had at my fingertips—into prototypes conveying the vision for First Place and the essential supportive ecosystem required for success. From kitchens, living rooms and offices to cafés, restaurants and classrooms, no one could escape the stories I felt so compelled to share—and the bold requests for wisdom, know-how and resources. Some ran the other way while many more listened patiently and rolled up their sleeves to make such an ambitious vision for individuals with autism and other neurodiversities a reality.

Those community champions are the reason for PBS NewsHour’s designation of Phoenix as “the most autism-friendly city in the world.” Maintaining this meaningful moniker requires continuous, 24/7 care and feeding—something to which First Place has been committed since that very first shovelful of dirt was turned in 2016.

While we still enjoy telling our story at every opportunity (i.e., tabletops or annual symposiums), the living, learning laboratory of First Place–Phoenix and the Greater Phoenix community is where we appreciate firsthand what works and for whom, as well as what needs to work better. It’s also where we’re committed to developing new models, systems and infrastructure while building capacity and leading promising public policy to expand our reach and impact.

Whether you come from national or international urban, suburban or rural areas, let’s “shake it up” together!

Join us for the 12th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium Oct. 18-20 and connect with aligned, committed trailblazers primed to turn dreams into reality with cost- and time-saving approaches to research, know-how, tools and training. Learn how integrated, connected communities are possible for people living, learning, working and thriving with autism and other neurodiversities—everywhere.

Register here to attend in person or via webinar.

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