First Place-Phoenix serves as a starting point toward creating more housing facilities to broaden the options available for the special needs community.
(Photo courtesy of First Place AZ/Paradisevalleyindependent.com)
Denise D. Resnik and her husband were given a choice when they discovered that their son Matthew had autism: to institutionalize their son as the doctor had recommended, or to love and care for him in the comfort of their own home with a commitment to endless support. Their journey started there and for nearly two decades, Resnik dreamed of a residence where Matthew and those with autism could live independently.
“We traveled everywhere looking for a model, but we were looking for something that didn’t exist. We realized it wouldn’t exist until we created it” said Resnik. She took what she had learned through research and travel and applied a mother’s heart to create First Place-Phoenix, a housing facility unlike any other.
The 81,000sq. ft, $15.4 million-dollar establishment - located in Central Phoenix, Arizona - is set up to provide support for adults with autism and other neuro-diversities in living more independently within a supportive and caring environment.
“After more than two decades of researching and dreaming, it is awe-inspiring to see First Place–Phoenix buzzing with the activities of our first 32 residents and 24 employees” said Resnik, founder, president, and CEO of First Place-Phoenix.
Opening doors to living, learning, and leading
First Place-Phoenix includes special security features, sound barriers to block out street sounds, special lighting to alleviate sensory issues, and staff on call 24/7. The establishment combines three main components:
- First Place Apartments – The apartment complex includes 55 modern, stylish apartments with one, two, and four bedroom units for lease. Each of the units include a range of property amenities and supportive housing services. Residents may choose to live alone, or may choose to live with a roommate. Based on their individual needs, the First Place-Phoenix team may recommend further external services.
- First Place Transition Academy – This is a two year residential program for adults with special abilities. The program includes 32 classes designed to teach independent living, as well as to help develop interpersonal skills and work place skills.
- First Place Global Leadership Institute – An training center advancing the continued education and training of support service providers and medical professionals; and a site for autism evidence-based research and advancements in public policy. The Institute addresses 10 priority issues: quality of life, isolation, housing crisis, support services, business models, research, public policy, adult medical care, technology platforms, and heterogeneity.
Annual tuition at First Place Transition Academy is $4000 a month and includes an apartment, utilities, 24/7 support, and classes at GateWay Community College. For the apartments, rent starts at $3,300 per resident for a two-bedroom. That includes all the other amenities, excluding the college classes.
First Place - Taking the first steps
First Place-Phoenix sets the standard for integrating adults with autism and other neuro-diversities into a society that will allow them to maximize their independence, community integration, personal growth, and quality of life.
For some of the current residents, First Place-Phoenix is a place where they have been experiencing many “firsts” – first jobs, first dates, first friendships, and more. For Lindsey Eaton, who has autism, it is the first place that she has lived outside of her family home. Eaton said that her parents were more nervous than she was when she moved into First Place-Phoenix. Now, she praises the facility for helping her to learn basic life skills, find a job, as well as budget her finances. “It means independence. It means the ability to do what I want, when I want, where I want, and how I want” said Eaton. She is employed at the Arizona School Board Association and at Zoyo Neighborhood Yogurt. Additionally, Eaton serves as a resident engagement member at First Place-Phoenix and coordinates events for its residents.
Resnik compared the establishment to a senior living facility. Residents at these facilities have various needs, ranging from health to mobility. Similarly, individuals with special needs require assistance with different things. “It’s very important that we mature a marketplace so that the market knows how to respond to the vast diversity and heterogeneity of what we’re talking about” said Resnik.
In the first year at First Place-Phoenix, residents will receive a private bedroom in a four bedroom suite with a shared living space. They will be involved in services extending from volunteer work to paid internships to group employment.
In the second year, residents will move into 29 Palms apartment, an off site senior living facility in Phoenix. There are 9 units available for those with autism, who can gain their independence and engage with seniors without autism residing in the same facility. “It’s not just about the four walls of a home, but it’s what people do all day and how they connect to their greater community for jobs, for friends, for recreation… for things we all want” said Resnik.
Phoenix: ‘the most autism-friendly city in the world’
With overwhelming support, First Place-Phoenix is focused on connecting residents to volunteer work and employment, along with recreation, retail, culture, restaurants and other venues for continual education. Additionally, living in the establishment allows the residents to learn and work among their neighbors and to develop a lifestyle that is productive, meaningful, and fulfilling.
It is Resnik’s hope that First Place-Phoenix will serve as a starting point toward creating more housing facilities to broaden the options available for the special needs community and to create a compassionate and understanding environment that benefits everyone. “There’s not a one size fits all, and so we need to have different options at different locations at different price points, in the same way that senior housing does” she said.
Today, First Place-Phoenix has over 100 collaborators on a local and national level. The establishment was developed and intended to be replicated in other cities and leaders from across North America, as well as England, Australia, and India have already expressed their interest. “We are today where senior housing was 50 years ago. We have a burgeoning population of adults with autism and other special abilities in need of homes and services that must transcend outdated and limited models” said Resnik. “A new generation of dynamic housing is only possible by collectively tapping private, public, philanthropic and nonprofit interests. That’s what we’re delivering through First Place” she added.