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Past & Present

Ian McCoy, First Place Transition Academy graduate

By Brent Jackson, First Place Resident and Transition Academy Graduate

When asked what my first idea would be for a blog, it took me a couple of days to really get my gears going. Then the perfect idea came to me. This is it: I can connect with former graduates of the First Place Transition Academy: Where are they now and what are they have been doing since graduation.

During my first couple weeks in the Transition Academy, I was really struggling and couldn’t even fathom all the expectations or what I was getting myself into. Someone suggested I reach out to a former student for help, but I decided to just push through and ask for help from staff and instructors.

Fast forward to April 3, 2021. Former TA instructor, Brad Herron-Valenzuela, reached out to a former graduate who expressed genuine interest in contributing to a blog. I never imagined it would be the same student I wanted to meet back when I was struggling!

His name is Ian McCoy, who graduated May 5, 2017 from the First Place Transition Academy. To find out more information about Ian, I asked three important questions: 1) What are you doing currently since graduating from the program? 2) What positives and negatives did you experience during your first, second or both years? And 3) When COVID-19 hit last year, how did it affect you? How are you doing now?

Here are Ian’s thoughtful answers:

  1. For three and a half years, I’ve been working with my mother as the front office concierge for our family-owned migraine/headache specialist office. I’m currently living in my own apartment in North Scottsdale, and it’s quite a bonus living within walking distance of your job. My hobbies still include: independent research, reading, poetry, archery, shooting, extreme fitness, martial arts, caring for others, gourmet cooking, improv comedy, learning new things, investing in stock—the list goes on and on.
  2. Let’s begin with the bad news, since I was able to change those experiences into a learning lesson rather than a burden. Throughout the program, whenever I got stressed, agitated or angry, I would excuse myself for a walk down to the gas station. When I got there, I either purchased a lottery ticket, tin of chewing tobacco or can of beer. A couple of positive highlights: April 15, 2015, I scored my first public speaking gig at the Wrigley Mansion. A few months later, I was on KTVK 3TV and PBS. Happy to see that a majority of the students at First Place are doing great.
  3. I was residing in Tempe when COVID-19 hit. I remember a time in early February last year when I woke up with a sharp pain in my chest, a fever of 101.5 degrees and trouble breathing; every time I had to cough, it felt like a 12-gauge shotgun slug had hit me in the ribs! After I left Urgent Care, they suggested I stay home for two weeks. Despite the test coming back negative, [today’s more advanced and reliable screening] wasn’t available back then. Due to the Americans and friends with loved ones who were lost, the pandemic made me feel cynical and more reluctant to trust others. I maintained social distancing, wore a mask when required and stayed home whenever needed. On the bright side, staying home during the pandemic helped me develop more skills cooking meals rather than getting takeout. As of today, I haven’t drunk alcohol since November 13, 2020. The awesome part of my apartment: I’m paying the same amount of rent for this one-bedroom than I was paying for a studio apartment in Tempe. That’s an upgrade!

It was truly an honor to write my first blog for First Place. Thank you, Ian McCoy, for your participation in helping me with this incredible opportunity.

Read more insights from Brent Jackson in BrieAnna J. Frank’s April 19, 2021 article in azcentral.com titled “We are having a moment:” Autism Awareness Month shows progress made, challenges ahead.

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