Denise has been dreaming about a future residence for her son Matt, who was diagnosed with autism more than 20 years ago.
As co-founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and president, board chair and founder of First Place® AZ, she has spent thousands of hours researching, evaluating and exploring residential concerns. As editor and publisher of Opening Doors: A Discussion of Residential Options for Adults Living with Autism and Related Disorders – a study by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Arizona, SARRC and ASU – she searched for residential options representing the country’s best practices. Denise also searched for replicable models that would fit within the fabric of urban, suburban and rural communities, close to where families live. She’s taken what she’s learned, developed a remarkable team and applied a mother’s heart to create First Place.
Denise has raised more than $70 million for the cause, primarily from in-state resources. She has also invested considerable resources in First Place from her well-respected marketing firm, DRA Collective, which she founded in 1986. The agency serves clients in a variety of fields, including real estate, healthcare, economic development, education, hospitality and energy.
Denise has received numerous local and national honors for her civic contributions and business accomplishments. She graduated cum laude from ASU and received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.