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More Big Steps for Individuals with Autism, Families, and Housing in 2017

By Denise Resnik


As history has demonstrated, only with the help of passionate volunteers, generous corporate contributors and dedicated professionals will we realize our vision: to provide a secure home for adults with autism, where individuals can live with respect, dignity and independence based on their unique needs and abilities; where they will be able to choose among a diverse range of educational, recreational and vocational opportunities and living options; and where they will be integrated with the community, just as the community will be become part of and take pride in them.

Photo courtesy Stephen Dreiseszun / Viewpoint Photographers

This quote is from a strategic plan I wrote in 1999, early in the formation of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC).  Last month, nearly 20 years after penning those words, we broke ground on First Place-Phoenix, the result of researching 100 residential options across the U.S. and abroad, focus groups involving 100 family members and people with autism, and the dedication of 80 local and national collaborators, represented through public, private and charitable sectors.

First Place-Phoenix, an 81,000-square-foot, 56-unit mixed-used residential property, is only possible through the cumulative impact of decades of intensive community building, beginning with the creation of our sister non-profit SARRC in 1997.  First Place-Phoenix is the first in what will become a collection of innovative properties envisioned to transform how people live, learn and continue to grow after leaving the family home. It’s also about mapping out how together we can perpetuate new residential and community options, ensuring that homes for people with autism and other special abilities are as bountiful as they are for everyone else.

First Place will be transformational for how we approach lifelong living, learning and working for individuals with special abilities; integrating physical properties and programs in a variety of community settings as it achieves the following:

  • Supports new approaches for adult residential living concerns
  • Produces and captures positive outcomes, documented through respected evidence-based research
  • Operates through a sound financial framework
  • Reduces the cost of lifetime support
  • Informs and empowers advancements in data-driven public policy

Beyond Arizona, we need more locations and configurations, varying price points and levels of services, along with opportunities to bring together public and private funds and philanthropy.

Photo courtesy Stephen Dreiseszun / Viewpoint Photographers

True to our history and that strategic plan written back in 1999, we value families, their diversity, rights, futures and the individuality of their children; maintain the highest level of integrity in everything we do; respect the sense of urgency and need for answers (and solutions) now; promote continuous education; collaborate with family, friends and the community at large; and serve as a leader, as demonstrated through all of our endeavors.

I knew when I wrote that strategic plan in 1999 the day would arrive when we would be helping our son, Matt, prepare for the next place he would live outside of our home. I know a lot more now about what the journey entails, and appreciate more than ever how these transitions can be as challenging for people with autism as they are for their parents!

In the year ahead, we’re working on a transition plan for Matt, so he will be better prepared for his new home at First Place-Phoenix in the Spring of 2018. Through First Place AZ, we’ll also be working on an action-oriented plan, including a parent coaching group, for easing that transition for families, helping ensure greater peace of mind for today–and the future.

Onward to a promising 2017!



All pictures accompanying this article are by and courtesy Stephen Dreiseszun / Viewpoint Photographers.

Author Image

Denise D. Resnik is the founder, president, and CEO of First Place® AZ, a charitable nonprofit real estate and community developer focused on individuals with autism and other neurodiverse populations. She was inspired to start First Place for her son, Matt, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2. In 1997, she co-founded the nonprofit Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). She is also the founder and CEO of DRA Collective, a Phoenix-based public relations, marketing, and communications firm.