I recently celebrated my two-year anniversary at First Place. During that time, I’ve watched the organization grow from an energized start-up to delivering on its vision as a global thought leader in neurodiverse housing and community development—all while weathering a pandemic! Most importantly, I experienced firsthand the impact of First Place–Phoenix on the lives of residents and their families.
For as great an impact as I have seen, the residents of First Place have taught me even more. My relationship with them is unique. I am a humble accountant—part of a finance team that my colleagues refer to as “mission control.” My interactions differ from those of our support staff, who work directly with residents every day. I’m also a millennial, which means most of the resident population and I are peers.
I see them go through a lot of the same struggles I go through and enjoy a lot of the same things I enjoy. I see them heading off for work in the morning and aspiring to what’s next as I’m walking in to start my day. I also perceive what’s different—not in physical appearance or cognitive ability, but in opportunity.
Many First Place residents lost their jobs when COVID-19 hit and businesses scaled back or shut down. I come home every day to a loving spouse while many residents are still searching for someone who will love and understand them. My parents are comforted knowing I can take care of myself so that as they grow old, they don’t have to worry about me. And I appreciate that many First Place parents are still fighting for a world that provides equal opportunities for all with neurodiversities to live and thrive.
These similarities and differences have taught me three important lessons:
“Hey, John,” I said. “How was your day?”
“Not good, man. I had a bad day at work, man,” he said.
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “I’m having a bad day at work, too.”
“You are?!” he replied. “Oh man, we are both having a bad day at work, man!”
I wasn’t trying to make him feel better, but knowing I was also going through some struggles made him walk away smiling. Sometimes all we need is to know that someone else understands.
There are days when I find myself griping. My day didn’t go as planned. My wife is upset. My dog is sick. Yet it only takes a smile to turn it all around. You may think that the mail coming late is no big deal, but we all make little things seem bigger than they are. Next time you find yourself complaining, remember to live in the moment. The next moment could be better than the one you are in now, and the one after that may be even better still.
I’ve been so thankful to be part of First Place over the past two years—and I’m excited how, in many ways, we’re just getting started.
Mitch Barr is the finance and planning coordinator at First Place. He and his wife Rachel live in Glendale with Wrigley, their golden retriever.