From the Team

The First Place–Phoenix team celebrates a year of firsts by sharing their favorite memories.

Fiona Falbo, Vocational Coordinator

I work with residents on their all-important, potentially life-changing job searches. Here is a list of some “first time” experiences I have had the privilege to help make possible and that resonate with me on a personal and professional level:
First time building a resume, interviewing, volunteering, interning, landing a job! First time feeling empowered, contributing, getting paid. First time learning the light rail, reaching personal goals, feeling the freedom of independence. First Time learning to be responsible, being receptive to feedback and change—and following dreams!

Brad Herron-Valenzuela, Transition Academy Instructor

My favorite “first” at First Place–Phoenix has been watching Transition Academy students and residents using and enjoying the social spaces together—the pool, game room, their apartments, on-site social events, etc. My most memorable moment was attending the first open house with our students and the people who designed and built this amazing property. Close second: seeing Matt Resnik start to transition into his new home at First Place—a very powerful full-circle moment after having worked with him in the past and imagining how impactful this must be for his family.

Alyssa Land, Digital Marketing & Creative Coordinator

“While I don’t typically experience all the fun happening at First Place–Phoenix daily, I love seeing the photos from activities, events and impromptu outings. The joy on our residents’ faces while they learn how to cook a new recipe, take the light rail to school/work and make new friends is priceless!

Jessica Noll, Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) Clinical Interventionist II

“The best part of my day is any time I get to talk with residents. I am often busy going from one location to another at First Place–Phoenix. Even in passing, residents are always sharing kind comments, greetings and stories of their day. I love hearing about their jobs and the employment goals they’ve achieved. It is great seeing them engaged in social activities and meeting new friends. The best part of my week is teaching yoga. We have many “regulars” and I love watching all the progress they’ve made and how much they enjoy having the time to tune in to their breath and body—and relax. The residents here make me feel welcome every day I come to work and are always glad to see me after I’ve been gone. They care about my plans and what’s happening in my life. I am so grateful for the connections I have made here!”

Marci Muhlestein, Director, Global Leadership Institute Center for Education, Training & Employment; Managing Director, Transition Academy


“The best part of my day is walking into the lobby in the morning and being greeted by residents who are just starting their day. It’s such a natural exchange and I’m always excited to hear what they each have planned. My favorite ‘first’ at First Place has been observing the development of true friendships among the residents: texting each other to get together at the pool, asking someone to go out to eat or inviting them to their apartment to watch a movie—seeing firsthand their pure joy of having someone to hang out with.

Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO


“While First Place offers a fun, entertaining and creative collection of community life activities, the best daily moment for me is experiencing those we don’t plan. Neighbors gathered in the fitness center outside of Workout Wednesday. Friends hanging out in the lobby, by the pool—or anywhere! BBQs at Joey’s Grill, where residents mentor each other, expanding everyone’s culinary capabilities. Staff and residents smiling, laughing and sharing high-fives. People who were once strangers now making weekend plans, holding hands and acknowledging they are the best of friends. And watching our son Matt experience this kind and supportive community, filling our hearts with his smiles, rekindled musical interests and new skills—while reminding us that we can, and do, learn at any age!”

Chuck Heimerdinger, Chief Financial Officer

“The best part of my day at First Place is interacting with residents and Transition Academy participants. This amazing group of individuals is experiencing new adventures and challenges each day as they grow and learn to become more independent adults. The stories and experiences they share are truly inspiring as they express their excitement about new jobs or community volunteering, social events with other residents or experiences out in the community—going to an arts & culture or sports event, shopping around town or just hanging out together at First Place. It’s also amazing to see how supportive the Phoenix community has been.

My most memorable event was orientation week when First Place–Phoenix first opened, watching the excited new residents move into their apartments and begin a new chapter in their lives: learning to live more independently. This was a very personal experience for my wife and me as our oldest daughter, Lauren, moved in that week as one of the ‘firsties.’ She has experienced many ‘firsts’ since becoming a resident that would not have been possible without First Place.”

Nancy Ottmann, Executive Director

“Favorite ‘first:’ Attending my first Global Leadership Institute symposium was one of the most inspirational and emotional professional experiences of my career. No price tag could be placed on Denise Resnik’s knowledge, expertise—and above all, passion—she shared on how to build a supportive housing community for adults with autism and other neuro-diversities. Her mission is going viral across the globe and I’m excited to be a part of this powerful movement!

A memorable moment: I attended a CORE meeting where the members wrote ‘Act of Kindness’ cards. They all noted how thankful they were to be at First Place. Someone wrote about a staff member, ‘April is always kind and hardworking. She cares about supporting the residents and makes sure they succeed.’ It was heartwarming to hear how thankful and happy they were to have a place to call home.

Best part of my day: I enjoy ending my day seeing residents socializing and actively participating in our community life activities—and I always look forward to seeing what’s for dinner on Wellness Wednesday!”

Nina Bernardo, Community Life Coordinator

“The best part of my day is when the residents are returning home from work or volunteering. Words can describe what I’m witnessing, but only the experience can be felt. As soon as they walk through the front doors, the lobby area fills with laughter as they share conversations about their day out in the community. Kindness is spoken, celebrations are sung, forgiveness is extended, appreciation is accepted, friendships are strengthened—and weekend plans are made! For me personally, it’s a chance for reflection but also a time when I learn something new from a resident. It’s a reminder that I’m part of something so innovative and meaningful here at First Place. It’s a time in my day when I feel closest to being a part of the residents’ home—and I sometimes don’t feel ready to go home yet because the community at First Place is so welcoming…because #weretheplaceforthat!”

Mary Ann Bashaw, Communication Specialist

“One of my tasks as communication specialist for First Place is to create quarterly reports. It’s a time-consuming effort that involves lots of researching, collaborating and compiling before I put the pieces together. Once the reports are complete, I always enjoy sitting back and taking stock of how they’re like treasure chests packed full of shiny, colorful, multifaceted gems that represent the many remarkable things happening at First Place each and every day!”

Renée Greene, Executive Liaison

“Seriously, the best part of my day is when one of Transition Academy students walks by my office window and waves to me. He’s a very quiet guy and it brightens my day that he makes the effort to say hello. My most memorable moment so far was at the recent celebration of the third cohort of Transition Academy students graduating from the program. The off-site event was being live-streamed from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, so we had set up in the Cox Community Room at First Place–Phoenix, where a small group of residents and students were watching. I sat at a table with the same quiet young man who waves at me every day. He started asking lots of questions about me and we ended up having a nice conversation. It’s so great to see the progress he’s making and the relationships he’s building with staff, residents and fellow students.”

Mitch Barr, Senior Bookkeeper

“The best part of being on the First Place team is the opportunity to work with passionate and caring people. I love the fact that everyone I work with enjoys coming here every day. We all share a common desire to revolutionize housing for adults with autism and other neuro-diversities and that energy is contagious. My most memorable moment at First Place so far was enjoying an impromptu karaoke session for residents on one of our recent ‘Feel Good Fridays.’ Everyone was so inclusive and supportive of each other and couldn’t help but have a great time, whether or not they were a karaoke hero. I couldn’t help but think that all communities could benefit from such a positive environment as we have here—and that’s really special.”

Sara Hetrick, Resident & Family Outreach Director

“The best part of my day is conversations and interactions with students and residents where I get to hear or see them experience new ‘firsts,’ living their best, big lives. It always causes me to reflect on early, pre-move-in conversations with families during the application process and makes me truly appreciate both the individual and collective opportunities available and successes experienced through First Place. I love being able to witness residents experiencing the enormity of their own potential. The journey toward independence is never the same for any of our families or residents and I understand their fear at times.”

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