Vote the Spectrum™ Continues Blazing Trails

February was an energizing month for Vote the Spectrum, with workshops for champions to familiarize them with toolkits, as well as a mock election and visit from Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes. Together with officials from the Maricopa County Elections Office and Recorder’s Office, Secretary Fontes walked and talked us through voter registration and the voting process before answering questions. Valued collaborators leading on voter education, participation and broadening our spectrum of democracy also joined us from Ability360Disability Rights ArizonaRaising Special Kids and The Arc of Arizona.

Attendees included residents and family members from First Place–Phoenix and Arizona Autism Charter Schools students who tried out the voting booth. They also learned about a range of accommodations with a representative from Maricopa County Voter Assistance Services.

Developed by the First Place Global Leadership Institute, Vote the Spectrum is a nonpartisan voter education and registration movement empowering and amplifying the voices of people with autism and /or intellectual/developmental disabilities, those who care about them and anyone who appreciates the value of a healthy, inclusive democracy for everyone. Learn more at votethespectrum.org—and stay tuned for updates!

Charlie Brown Coming to a Theater (Stage) Near You!

Join us for the big night Saturday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Residents, Transition Academy students, staff and our theater friends and graduate students from Arizona State University’s Design & Arts Corps couldn’t be more excited. Huge thanks to our supportive community partner Arizona Commission on the Arts for making another invaluable life skills experience possible! Purchase your tickets here for $5 (plus fee).

February Divergent Digest

First Place–Phoenix’s February issue of the Divergent Digest is full of compelling content spotlighting Black History Month.

Community Life: Pink Dinner, Cupid’s Arrows and Floral Flair

With Valentine’s Day a not-so-distant February memory, Chef Titina was back with fun food activities—and a fabulous menu—for a “pink dinner” with residents and staff. Everyone donned pink aprons and sipped pink mocktails as they worked together to build the meal by spearing fruit and setting a lovely table. Everyone was tickled pink!

Taking aim on some real adventure, residents visited the local Papago Archery Range to receive a lesson or two from one of their friendly certified coaches. For many, it was the first time nocking and releasing an arrow—but they gave it a shot as they learned the finer points of archery and left their marks on the targets. 

Who’s ready to witness some fitness? Our longtime friends at the K2 Adventures Foundation, in collaboration with Results Only Fitness, recently put everyone through a full-body workout—and they shined like never before. (And that’s not just a reference to sweat!)

Residents just LOVE showing off their creativity—and Valentine’s Day gave them the perfect opportunity to let their talents blossom. After making fabulous floral wreaths for their apartment doors with Nicole Newman from K2 Adventures Foundation, they gathered in our popular new Space to Create with renowned artist Joe Ray and painted to their hearts’ content.

Board-certified music therapist Autumn McClintock turned the latest visit from Mind-Full Music Therapy Services into a mind bender. From her bag of tricks—and letters—she pulled out a variety of sources to create something called “chance music” to encourage creative spontaneity. Was it fun? By chance, it was!

Getting to the Heart of the Matter Through the Arts & Humanities

First Place returned to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West for an unforgettable evening with special guests, including renowned photographer Blair Bunting, violinist Laura Nadine, film producers Caren Zucker and John Schaffer and artist Calvin Shin. Guests learned about workforce/workplace development initiatives, positive results through a five-year collaboration between The Precisionists Inc. and SRP, and ways they can become involved in building a more supportive community through resources like the In A Different Key Toolkit for Autism Understanding. It takes us all! Let us know how you’d like to get involved.

February Save-the-Date: Vote the Spectrum Workshop

Join us for the first Vote the Spectrum Workshop at First Place–Phoenix on Feb. 27. Guided by the principle that democracy must respect the rights and freedoms of all, the First Place Global Leadership Institute has launched Vote the Spectrum (VTS), an Arizona-based voting initiative informing and activating our community to include individuals with autism and other neurodiversities, along with family members, educators, employers, healthcare professionals, neighbors—and all people who care.

To learn more and get involved, join us on Tuesday, Feb. 27 for our first Vote the Spectrum Workshop from 4–6 p.m. at First Place–Phoenix, 3001 N. Third Street.

Hear from Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and other valued collaborators as we work together to empower champions with the tools, resources and sites needed to reach our respective communities and stakeholders to achieve our goal of registering 10,000 voters this year.

Learn what First Place AZ, Maricopa County, the State of Arizona and leading organizations like The ArcDisability Rights Arizona and Raising Special Kids can do for you. Experience standard and accessible voting booths, helpful educational tools—and much more! Register here. We look forward to seeing you next month!

Resident Wins “Best in Show” at Dogtopia

Kudos to First Place–Phoenix resident Whitney, who received the January Employee of the Month unanimous honor at her local Dogtopia location. As a canine coach at one of First Place’s more popular supportive vocational partners, Whitney’s duties include controlling a large open-play area for dogs and teaching basic commands, as well as keeping an eye on pup behaviors and addressing any issues that come up. Asked why she was chosen, she made no bones about it: “I’m really good with dogs.” Congrats, Whitney!

Bridging the Healthcare Gap: Next Listening Session in Tucson

The First Place Global Leadership Institute has the lofty goal of creating a healthcare equity model where no one goes untreated or is medically misunderstood because of autism and/or other intellectual and developmental disabilities (A/I/DD) in Arizona and beyond. This requires lots of collaboration among various aligned stakeholders.

Thanks to the NARBHA Institute, Francis Family Foundation and Make WavesFirst Place Global Leadership Institute (GLI) is hosting a free public Listening Session at the Community Foundation Campus in Tucson on Friday, Feb. 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Please join us as we bring together key organizations involved in the healthcare system and acknowledge the complex needs of adults with A/I/DD. Sessions will be facilitated by Maureen Casey, director of the Colonel Harland Sanders Center for Applied Research and The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Center for Public Policy at the GLI, along with various other First Place leaders. The NARBHA Institute is committed to “the integration of physical and behavioral health and community reinvestment to illuminate and strengthen health equity.” Reserve your spot. We look forward to seeing you!

Community Life: Push-Ups, Pasta & Princes

Check out what residents were up to this month, including jousting, fitness and ever-popular cooking!

  • Residents committed to starting 2024 off on the right foot (and leg and arm) with their participation in a recent #workoutwednesday in our on-site GoodLife Fitness room. Staff led them through various exercises using different types of equipment. As the saying goes, “Every day is a good day to work out.” You got this!
  • When Chef Titina is in the First Place–Phoenix culinary teaching kitchen, she doesn’t always have residents do things the easy way. On her most recent visit to First Place–Phoenix, she and her regular fans made pasta the old-fashioned way: by hand. Mama mia!
  • Who needs forks and spoons when there are swords and lances? That’s what First Place–Phoenix residents discovered when they recently traveled back to the Middle Ages for jousting, swordsmanship, jousting and dinner at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. It was a knight they’ll never forget!

All Aboard: Unique Drawing Keeps First Place Moving

Are First Place–Phoenix residents riffing off that amazing Bob Case Illustration? With Bob’s permission, residents enjoyed a chance at self-expression by coloring a black and white image and creating their own versions from the original Bob produced in kind exclusively for First Place AZ. The timeless image, introduced during the First Place Global Leadership’s 12th Symposium last fall, represents our steady movement forward by encouraging others to join us. Are you all aboard?

Join Us for a Virtual Tour

During monthly virtual tours, you’ll learn about the First Place–Phoenix Apartments and Transition Academy, which is currently enrolling for the 2024 class. Learn about community life, employment, and health and wellness programs, as well as state-of-the-art amenities that include a workout room, sports pool, reading lounge, culinary teaching kitchen—and our friendly, knowledgeable 24/7 concierges. Register today—and see firsthand why “We’re the place for that.®” Register here.

Happy Holidays from First Place–Phoenix!

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the annual Holiday Tour of Doors! First Place–Phoenix residents, Transition Academy students and staff spread holiday joy as they led tours around the property, showcasing the unique creativity that made their doors so festive and fun.  Congratulations to winners for Best Theme, Most Unique, Most Festive, Most Colorful and Most Creative! Watch the fun here.

Amy Lutz Makes Her Mark at December LNCS

Parents and staff attended a compelling Lifelong Networks for Communities of Support (LNCS) session with longtime First Place champion Amy Lutz, Ph.D., who shared insights from her new book titled, Chasing the Intact Mind: How the Severely Autistic and Intellectually Disabled Were Excluded from the Debates That Affect Them Most. As a founding board member of the National Council on Severe Autism and the devoted mother of an adult son with severe autism, Amy is passionate in her pursuit of effective policies and solutions needed for the surging population of individuals, families and caregivers affected by severe forms of autism and related disorders.

LNCS (pronounced “links”) is a group of parents and family members 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.

Community Life: Learning, Laughs & Lyrics

Check out what residents were up to this month—from spares and strikes to cooking up something special for the holidays with ever-popular Chef Titina—with some science in between!

Residents and staff were “over the moon” after the latest visit from First Place–Phoenix fave Harper Hipps, local high school student and creator of Immerse Pop-Up Science Club. Harper led everyone through the fun and enlightening (literally!) construction of constellation cups and a cool moon-phase contraption, topped off by the always-popular-go-outside-and-make-something-fly experiment.

With instruments in hand and joy in their hearts, residents were laughing in harmony during their recent gathering for Mind-Full Music Therapy Services. Led by board-certified music therapist Autumn McClintock, they created a parody of the holiday classic, “Santa Baby.” Just like the original, it was a hit!

The lanes at Let It Roll Bowl were rocking when residents and staff showed up, ready with their A games. It was a big afternoon of camaraderie and competition, with plenty of whoops, wows and high-fives—because that’s how we roll at First Place.

Chef Titina never leaves anyone hungry after an engaging and delicious session in the First Place Culinary Teaching Kitchen—and this month was no exception! She and residents prepared a traditional prime rib with chimichurri—a recipe from her native Argentina—green beans with almonds and cranberries, and Russian potato salad. It was a holiday feast that left everyone feeling festive…and full!

Vote the Spectrum in Local News

Vote the Spectrum is taking off! We’re happy to report that our nonpartisan voting registration initiative is catching the attention of people living with autism and/or other intellectual/developmental disabilities, champions from the autism and disability community, state and civic leaders across the political spectrum and local press. Learn more here about how you can register to vote as a Vote the Spectrum champion.

360 Health & Wellness Workshops Back in 2024

The popular and informative First Place 360 Health & Wellness workshop series for adults with autism and other neurodiversities and their families is back! Together, participants can build their Peace of Mind Portfolios with “Supporting Independence” for parents, guardians and support providers and “Staying Healthy” for neurodiverse individuals. The series starts in January 2024 and runs through March. Register here.

Denise ASU Speech

Denise D. Resnik, First Place AZ founder & president/CEO, recently had the honor of addressing graduates of ASU’s School of Health Solutions during the convocation. First Place enjoys an ongoing collaboration with ASU to help ensure equitable access to quality healthcare for adults with autism and other neurodiversities. Denise’s message to the 2023 graduating class: “Locate your North Star to direct and ground you; allow yourself to dream, adopting a vision for impact and a happy life filled with purpose; and build your supportive community to fortify you every step of the way!”

‘Tis the Season for Tax Credits

Help make a difference with your tax dollars by donating to First Place AZ, a qualified charitable organization! Joint filers can claim up to $841 and individuals $421 for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on their 2023 taxes. Please consider supporting our vision to ensure that housing and community options are as bountiful for people with autism and other neurodiversities as they are for everyone else. Click here to donate—and thank you for your support!

Family Fun Night

Annual Family Fun Night is an opportunity for residents to welcome their loving and supportive families to an evening that gives them a taste of community life at First Place–Phoenix. Everyone gathered around Joey’s Grill outside for great food and played games in the Cox Community Room before ending the evening by our Thunderbirds Charities Sports Pool for s’mores and hot cocoa. Thank you, First Place families and staff, for making this another fun annual night to remember!

Vote the Spectrum Momentum

Excitement continues to build from the #VoteTheSpectrum launch at SARRC’s 2023 Yes Day for Autism last month. Thank you to everyone who has already joined the movement! If you haven’t yet, visit votethespectrum.org, register to vote and register your interest in making a difference.

December LNCS Focus: Living with Severe Autism

Learn more about December’s LNCS session featuring Amy Lutz, Ph.D. She will discuss the realities of severe autism and share insights from her new book, Chasing the Intact Mind.

Amy Gravino—autism sexuality advocate, consultant and relationship coach—gave an important and engaging presentation on healthy relationships, sex and dating during this November's LNCS session. Amy was featured in the award-winning 2021 documentary about autism, In a Different Key. Drawing on her own lived experiences, Amy shared tips and strategies for empowering families to address sexuality and disability, puberty and dating, along with other relevant topics.

First Place Community Life Alive and Well!

  • Residents found that maxi things come from making mini pumpkin pies together for Thanksgiving: flavorful filling, friendship and, most important, fun!
  • The holidays are a great time to remember those in need. This month, residents and staff spent an afternoon at St. Mary’s Food Bank packing meal boxes for families across Arizona.

November was Native American Heritage Month. This gave First Place–Phoenix residents all the inspiration they needed on a recent visit to S'edav Va'aki Museum in Phoenix. Everyone left with a greater sense of appreciation and respect.

It may have rained the night before, but that didn’t stop an intrepid bunch of residents from hitting the trail in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve with First Place volunteer Marla Weiss, who always makes hiking fun and inclusive.

GivingTuesday Gives a Chance for Gratitude

To shine a bright light on GivingTuesday, we expressed—and continue to express—our gratitude to everyone who supports independent living at First Place–Phoenix and the transformative efforts of the First Place Global Leadership Institute. This includes dear friends and First Place champions Judy Ackerman and Richard Epstein, whose generosity and vision have helped fund activities of the ever-popular Adventure Club, a year-round resident favorite. We are forever grateful!

Insights on Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Natasha Grant Holmberg, MNLM, CESP, First Place AZ director of workplace and community inclusion, recently weighed in on avoiding stereotyping neurodiverse individuals in a blog published by the Mastercard Newsroom. Read what attendees learned at Mastercard’s early-November Neurodiversity in the Workplace Summit at its St. Louis Tech Hub about the struggles, productivity and potential of the neurodivergent population. 

12th Symposium Exceeds Expectations—and Makes Many Memorable Moments!

Huge thanks to all—attendees, speakers and our generous sponsors—for being part of the 12th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium, in person and via webinar.

Participation by and positive feedback from so many local and national pioneering leaders is a testament to the continued interest in fueling a new generation of housing, healthcare and community options for people with autism and other neurodiversities. Together, we can—and will—change the world! 

Enjoy this brief snapshot that captures the essence of three unforgettable and productive days together. And mark your calendars for #13 next October 16–18!

Nov. 2 Screening of New Film “Understanding Autism”

This compelling documentary by Golden Globe®-winning producer/director Scott Steindorff explores the latest research in autism—and how empathy and emotion can help autistic people live happier and more functional lives. Scott was a guest at the symposium, where he spoke with heart and passion about autism through his unique lens (literally) and showed attendees the compelling trailer.

“Understanding Autism” is showing for FREE at 7 p.m. on Thursday evening, Nov. 2 in Mesa at MIX: the Media and Immersive Experience Center. MIX is a collaboration between the City of Mesa and ASU, Scott’s alma mater. RSVP here and get ready for an unforgettable journey through autism—and stick around for a “talkback” with Scott.

A Collective Nod for SARRC’s 2023 YES Day for Autism

Families and friends, along with countless strollers and playful pups, were out in droves on Sunday, Oct. 29 at Tempe Beach Park for Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center’s Third Annual YES! Day for Autism. This SARRC event continues to grow in popularity and attendance as the community comes together in a concerted effort “to create more supportive, inclusive communities for people with autism.” 

From 9 a.m. to noon, activities included a Resource Fair with booths and information from Arizona autism providers, live entertainment, eats and treats, a carnival and “Kids’ Zone,” and Sprouts’ perpetually popular pumpkin patch.

This year’s event was also the perfect time and place for First Place AZ to introduce two new key initiatives: Vote the Spectrum, a movement to help raise awareness about the voting rights of individuals with autism and other neurodiversities; and Kiip, an innovative “digital locker” app that keeps vital documents secure, organized and accessible—a convenient and FREE tool for the populations we serve and their families.

Thanks to all who showed up to share. Such invaluable community exchanges continue to drive the momentum for lasting, positive change for the populations we serve and their devoted families.

Notable October Honors for First Place Founder Denise D. Resnik

Denise was honored this month by two leading organizations that recognize dedicated Arizonans who have made and continue to make an enduring difference on myriad levels in our great state.

Denise is proud to join an esteemed list of Historical League Arizona Historymakers, started in 1991, who have distinguished themselves in such areas as arts, athletics, communications, community service, education and entertainment.

The Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame, founded in 1981, also welcomed Denise and three other women of noteworthy accomplishments from around the state, along with four late women leaders inducted as legacy members. Its mission is to “honor, preserve and celebrate the stories of exceptional Arizona women.”

Kudos, Denise, for these amazing honors. First Place AZ is also grateful to benefit from your well-deserved recognition that helps keep autism present in the local, state, national and international consciousness. Onward!

Nov. 7 Webinar on Neurodiverse Arizona Communities

One in 36 children in Arizona is affected by autism, with a growing number of adults being diagnosed with autism and/or intellectual/developmental disabilities. Our communities are facing unprecedented demand for healthcare and support services related to neurodiversity—the term for an array of neurological differences.

Join us at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7 the First Place Global Leadership Institute’s latest webinar, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s Foundation for Community & Health Advancement and titled “Healthcare Equity for Neurodiverse Communities: Leveraging Applied Research and Partnerships.” We’ll take a closer look at the impact of neurodiversity in Arizona. Register here for this free Zoom event. We hope you’ll join us!

First Place Community Life Alive and Well!

Check out what residents were up to this month—from petting some pretty awesome pups to tapping into their creative side—with some eats in between!

Residents are working at staying active and strong in First Place–Phoenix’s Good Life Fitness room with health & wellness specialist and First Place friend Rebecca Bauer.

Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Residents sleuthed around the property for odds and ends before mingling over tacos—and a few laughs about their circuitous pursuits.

Precious pups from Pawsitive Friendships popped by on World Mental Health Day to share the power of unconditional love with residents.

Residents recently returned to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West for another visit and to tap into their creative side during an “inspiriting” art lesson.

First Place AZ in Good Company for Employment Expansion

The First Place Global Leadership Institute is honored to be included in the list of 16 organizations recently awarded funding by the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family (GOYFF) in support of workforce development expanding employment opportunities for Arizonans. The grant for First Place’s be OPEN + be Ready employment initiative will help position Arizona employers in need of loyal, capable employees to train and hire adults with autism and other neurodiversities—so everyone wins!

Finding Meaning in Cleaning

In her latest blog, First Place AZ Founder and President/CEO Denise D. Resnik delves deeper into the meaning of son Matt’s affinity for cleaning.

All Aboard with the 2023 Symposium

Join us for this year’s 12th First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium October 18–20 (in person in Phoenix or via webinar) as we “get on board” in support of adults with autism and/or other neurodiversities through home, healthcare, employment, lifelong education and community options. Click here for a sampling of inspiring sessions and compelling panels that address complex issues, as well as progress in communities across the country.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t miss out on the group hotel rate expiring this Saturday, Sept. 30! Embassy Suites by Hilton Phoenix Downtown North ($209/night) is just two blocks from First Place–Phoenix.

First Place Variety Show a VERY Big Hit!

Residents’ boundless talents were in the spotlight Friday for the first annual First Place–Phoenix Variety Show at Phoenix Center for the Arts. The night was filled with singing, dancing, laughing—and plenty of spirited cheering and encouragement from an audience of proud family members, friends and staff. The magical event was funded by a generous grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. And thanks to their continued support, we’re looking forward to yet another showcase of First Place talent: a spring performance of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Bravo, First Place residents!  You filled our hearts as you commanded the stage with such unfettered fun, enthusiasm and joy!

Say “Yes!” to SARRC’s YES Day

We’re excited to join Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) for another YES Day for Autism (its third year!). This FREE annual event on Saturday, Oct. 29 focuses on raising funds, awareness and acceptance in Arizona of individuals with autism and their families is growing in popularity. We hope you’ll join us and say YES to training and education, health and wellness, employment skill-building and community integration—all with the goal of more independent living.

First Place Community Life Alive and Well

Check out what residents have been up to this month—from a community service project to a “pop-up science”…with some eats in between!

Chef Titina, a First Place fave, was back again this month for another episode of “Clever Cooking” with a modern take on the 19th-century French fave, le croque monsieur. Residents used prosciutto and Havarti cheese to whip up their own fancy versions of an America standard: the grilled cheese sandwich.

Everyone was happy with the return of local high-schooler Harper Hipps and her ever-popular Pop-Up Science Club. Harper led residents through two out-of-this world experiments.

  • Residents pulled together to assemble “Kindness Kit” hygiene bags in support of Circle the City, a local nonprofit that provides “healthcare and hope” to thousands of adults and children facing homelessness across Maricopa County.
  • Rebecca Bauer, First Place–Phoenix health & wellness specialist, recently got residents chopping and mixing as she shared one of her favorite recipes: roasted vegetables.

Listening in on State Healthcare System Challenges

In collaboration with the NARBHA Institute and Make Waves Family Foundation, First Place AZ recently launched a series of listening sessions—with a kick-off in Flagstaff, Arizona—with the goal of facilitating conversations with key stakeholders concerning the healthcare system and the needs of adults with autism and other neurodiversities.

DEI at First Place: Hispanic Heritage Month

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 September issue.

Statewide Home Campaign Launched in Arizona

First Place AZ has been actively engaged with tri-sector leaders on the development and launch of Home is where it all starts, a public awareness campaign powered by more than a dozen private, public and nonprofit/charitable organizations across Arizona. 

Leaders convened as part of a Communication Collaborative initiated by Home Matters® to Arizona, of which First Place AZ Founder and President/CEO Denise D. Resnik is vice board chair. The campaign addresses the housing crisis and is focused on ensuring that “every Arizonan has a place to be at home, empowering them to live stable and purposeful lives.” First Place AZ and other organizations are also working together to educate the public to ensure it also recognizes individuals with autism and/or other intellectual/ developmental disabilities.

Learn more about this dedicated Arizona team of champions for housing and how you can help at homeiswhereitallstarts.org.

Finding Meaning in Cleaning

In her latest blog, First Place AZ Founder and President/CEO Denise D. Resnik delves deeper into the meaning of son Matt’s affinity for cleaning.

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 alexis@firstplaceaz.org. 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.

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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Groundbreaking
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Countdown for Matt
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Housewarming

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.

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 

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 brad@firstplaceaz.org 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!