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Newsletter – June 2023

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.

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