First Place Transition Academy Graduates: Shining Examples of Powering Through

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!

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