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Meet First Place Program Director, Jeff Ross

For nearly 40 years, I’ve been committed to helping individuals with varying challenges and disabilities live more independently.  My interest started as a teenager when my rock band played a charity gig at an institution for individuals with special needs. I was shocked that so many of these individuals were destined to an institutionalized life when they demonstrated abilities that should allow them to live in the community.

For 34 of my 38 years at Taft College in California, I served as the Director of Student Support Services.  In 1995, I created the Transition to Independent Living program, a residential campus-based program for adults with autism and intellectual disabilities. The program has been very successful in transitioning young adults into independent living situations throughout California.  I consistently experienced young adults living more independently and beyond their dreams and, in most cases, beyond the dreams of their parents and families.

More than 350 students have graduated from the program and the resulting data collected 10 years post graduation speaks volumes.  Consider: 95% live independently, 89% are employed and 88% are financially independent.

I planned to retire from my position at Taft in 2014 and do some part-time consulting, until I met Denise Resnik. Denise and a group of her colleagues visited my program and shared with me their vision for First Place.

This vision represents the most comprehensive plan I’ve seen in all my years in this profession. The idea that First Place would house a national training institute, a transition academy and individual residences for individuals with autism and other special abilities piqued my interest to the point that I agreed to become the program director. I did have two days of retirement (most people call that a weekend!) before I relocated to Phoenix last July.

We have been very busy as we make First Place a reality.  The infrastructure is coming along at a rapid pace. We are in the middle of orientation for the transition academy program, which is being housed at a beta site property; land has been purchased for the new mixed-use First Place development; and our capital campaign is in full gear.

The idea that we can create an environment in an urban area that integrates First Place participants and residents into the community to access employment opportunities, post-secondary educational programs and social/ recreational activities is monumental.  I’m thrilled to be a part of this vision and soon to be new reality!

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