A lot can be said about how a society treats its aging, vulnerable and disenfranchised communities, but at First Place AZ advocates there are seeking a holistic approach to day-to-day life for those with neurodiversities.
Autisim and neurodiversity is a growing classification among American children and, to date, there are more than 1 million adults living with a cognitive disorder, emerging data shows.
Denise Resnik, founder and CEO of First Place AZ, is working to make a difference.
“Alarming statistics underscore the urgent need for awareness, community integration and appreciation for the abilities of people with differences,” she said.
“With the incidence of autism in children now one in 54 — and more than one million adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities, including autism, living with a caregiver over age 60 — we cannot delay building supportive communities and more options for where and how people live and thrive.”
First Place AZ, a Phoenix-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit, aims to set the standard for giving those living their lives a part of the Autism spectrum a hand-up — not just a handout.
“We are raising the bar on a new generation of options so that individuals with different abilities and their families recognize that a diagnosis need not stand in the way of friends, jobs, supportive communities — and homes of their own,” she explained.
“First Place AZ’s mission in Arizona and everywhere — is to set the standard for developing communities that integrate adults with autism and other neurodiversities into the fabric of society through housing, healthcare, education, employment, supportive systems and culture.”
The vision of First Place?
“Our vision is to ensure that housing and community options are as bountiful for adults with autism and other neurodiversities as they are for everyone else,” Ms. Resnik said.
The idea behind First Place is grounded in the fundamentals of holistic care for folk with cognitive disabilities, Ms. Resnik explains.
“Through a broad and more robust marketplace, individuals can better match their needs and interests with homes they choose, combined with natural supports and long-term support services,” she said of the premise behind permanent housing. “Together, we can and will inform outcomes demonstrating what works, what needs to work better and how supportive policy can better align the interests of all sector...”
Ms. Resnik points to the latest study conducted by First Place in collaboration with the Arizona State University Watts College of Public Service as a step toward better understanding of how to address autism and society.
As in most innovations, Ms. Resnik offers insights into a pilot program amid the time of the novel coronavirus meant to use technology to engage adults living with neurodiversities.
“Kind It Forward is a pilot initiative created to engage adults with autism and other neurodiversities in various kind, joyful, meaningful and productive activities during this time of COVID-19 and well beyond,” she said of the catalyst for the program.
“We are visibly demonstrating tangible and lasting ways First Place residents and other special populations can strengthen our community through their time and talents while building skills helping them on their paths to more independent living.”
Ms. Resnik says in this case technology can be a great human connector for good.
“In this way, everyone can benefit from First Place’s diverse community of pride, purpose and endless possibilities,” she said. “We have modeled a collection of creative strategies and activities for how to nurture and sustain a kinder community, including extending a helping hand where needed.”
But these efforts need funding for day-to-day operations, and that’s where The Charro Foundation comes into the picture as the philanthropic arm of The Scottsdale Charros.
“Charro funding has already begun shining a bright light on the Kind It Forward program, including activities at First Place and those shared with other community organizations,” she said of a $5,000 grant provided to First Place this grant year.
For 60 years, the Scottsdale Charros have been in constant pursuit of improving the lives of those who call Scottsdale home meanwhile promoting the community’s ties to its western heritage.
Dennis Robbins, executive director of the Scottsdale Charros, knew he saw a special program when the Kind It Forward grant application came across his desk.
“I loved the primary mission of integrating adults with autism and other neurodiversities into the fabric of our community,” he said. “It is very important for our community to embrace those with different skills and abilities. First Place encourages that through housing, health care, education, employment, supportive systems and culture.”
Mr. Robbins points out the innovation of continuing to serve in new ways amid the pandemic deserves a hard look for grant funding.
“First Place has developed a program specifically in response to COVID-19,” he said.
“The program is called “Kind It Forward.’ This program was created to engage adults with autism in various kind, meaningful, and productive activities during COVID and beyond. The purpose is to demonstrate in visible, tangible, and lasting ways the abilities of First Place residents as people who are productive, contributing members of society.”
In all, Ms. Resnik reports, The Charro Foundation dollars went directly toward:
At the end of the day, Mr. Robbins points out, First Place AZ is helping people who need it the most.
“First Place AZ offers a residential experience to individuals with autism a vibrant community life program and a range of amenities and in-home supports,” he said.