Tag Archives: SARRC

First Place, RSP Architects

Autistic adults move into First Place™ beta site

Adults with autism have moved into the beta site for the First Place Transition Academy, one of three components of the future First Place mixed-use residential property in Phoenix.  The Academy is teaching independent living, career development and social skills for a population that experiences a “services cliff” after high school, according to a new recently released national autism indicators report. First Place serves primarily young adults.

In April, residents moved into 29 Palms Apartments, a development of the Foundation for Senior Living, which co-locates six two-bedroom apartments for adults with autism and 15 affordable multi-generational housing units. Watch this video about First Place and the 29 Palms beta site.

“First Place is a home for my son to thrive and contribute to the broader community,” says parent, Bonnie Kluger. “First Place is supplementing the skills he already has to advance him on the road to independence.”

“We are thrilled resident students are moving in and experiencing independent living for the first time,” said Jeff Ross, First Place executive director. “Participants have completed a seven-week orientation and continue to learn skills from their independent living classrooms, also known as apartments.  They’re also learning about community life that includes grocery shopping, navigating transportation, applying for a job and expanding their social networks.”

First Place and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) are collaborating on the two-year First Place Transition Academy, which teaches functional life skills from 29 Palms, provides paid work internships throughout the community and offers independent living courses on site and through SARRC’s Vocational & Life Skills Academy.

“The program aims to teach individuals the skills they need to live independently in their own homes as well as establish and maintain competitive employment,” says Paige Raetz Ph.D., Residential Transition Academy Director at SARRC.

Half of the new student participants have moved into 29 Palms.  More prospective students are now being assessed and interviewed to determine if the Academy is a good match for their next step into adult life. Annual tuition, which covers rent, classes, individualized services and activities, is $42,000/year.

The new Academy participants will live at the beta site and have the option to live at the new First Place mixed-use residential development, expected to break ground in Phoenix early next year and open in early 2017. The property will be located at 3rd Street & Catalina, within walking distance to public transit and light rail.  Envisioned as a replicable model offering an innovative approach to housing, First Place combines three complementary components: First Place Apartments (for residents), First Place Transition Academy (for students), and First Place Leadership Institute (a 10,000-square-foot facility for service providers, professionals and physicians).

The First Place Leadership Institute already includes a national faculty, advancing the continuing education and training of support service providers. Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D., the director of the Autistic Global Initiative, is serving as the curriculum specialist for the First Place Leadership Institute and member of its national faculty.

“As individuals with autism grow into young adulthood, we are embarking on a journey toward solutions. First Place is one of those solutions,” Paradiz said. “Our curriculum is finding positive, refreshing and thoughtful ways to help individuals with autism be more independent.”

Providing a local post-high school option is critical for adults with autism. New research from A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s Life Course Outcomes Research Program details that youth entering adulthood experience a “services cliff” or a steep drop-off in services.

▪    Key findings of the National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood include:

Over one third (37 percent) of young adults with autism were disconnected during their early 20s, meaning they never got a job or continued education after high school. In comparison, less than 6 percent of young adults with other types of disabilities were disconnected.

74 percent of young adults on the autism spectrum have not attended postsecondary education, including 2-year and 4-year colleges, at some time between high school and their early 20s.

Approximately one in four young adults with autism were socially isolated, meaning theynever saw or talked with friends and were never invited to social activities within the past year.

Four out of five young adults on the autism spectrum never lived independently (away from parents without supervision) between high school and their early 20s.

Employment is often the primary transition goal of students with disabilities as they prepare to exit high school. The report indicates 58 percent of young adults on the autism spectrum worked for pay outside the home between high school and their early 20s—a rate far lower than young adults with other types of disabilities. Those who got jobs generally worked part-time for low wages.

According to Paul Shattuck, PhD, leader of the Life Course Outcomes Research Program and an associate professor at Drexel, and member of the First Place Leadership Institute faculty, “Over half of young adults work, and about one-third continue their education. Some do both. But one-third of all young adults with autism do neither. They are disconnected from the outcomes that special education was targeting.”

Refer to this Autism Indicators link for a complete copy of the report.

“A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s new research report clearly defines the issues First Place and SARRC are addressing.  Residential experiences combined with continuing education and real community experiences will help ensure more adults with autism enjoy the quality of life they desire and that parents like me dream about for our loved ones,” said Denise D. Resnik, First Place founder, board chair and president, and SARRC co-founder.


SARRC expands leadership team

Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) has added Paige Raetz as its Residential Transition Academy Director and Kate Thoene as its Social Enterprise Director.  Both Raetz and Thoene join SARRC as part of its leadership team.

This month, SARRC named Paige Raetz Director of the Residential Transition Academy, a new two-year residential student program, created in partnership with SARRC’s sister non-profit, First Place, focused on transitioning adults with autism into independent living.  Since 2010, Paige served as clinical director of Trumpet Behavioral Health and oversaw the operational and clinical needs for the Arizona, Texas, and Illinois divisions.

“It is rare to find someone with Paige’s combination of clinical expertise and passion for adults with autism.  Paige will help SARRC expand our commitment to delivering high-quality programs and research, and we are thrilled to have her join our team to lead this new innovative program,” said



SARRC’s President and CEO, Daniel Openden.

“I was drawn to SARRC because of its excellent leadership and dedication to evidence-based, high-quality clinical service and research. I am excited to join an organization with such strong ties locally, nationally and internationally.  The Transition Academy represents the next step in supporting individuals with autism spectrum disorders and I am eager to be a part of this innovative program,” said Raetz.




Kate Thoene brings years of non-profit experience to her new role as SARRC’s Social Enterprise Director.  In this role, Thoene will oversee the non-profit organization’s social enterprises, which provide job training for adults with autism, including Beneficial Beans®, SARRC’s unique entrepreneurial coffee venture. Kate comes to SARRC from UMOM New Day Centers, Inc. where she was the chief social enterprise officer.  Previously, Kate served for 10 years as the director of community kitchen programs at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance where she managed a workforce development culinary program and catering operation.

“We are extremely pleased to have Kate lead our social enterpriseprograms. Kate brings years of experience operating workforce development programs and we know she will contribute greatly to expanding our state-of-the-art employment training programs for adults with autism,” Openden said.“I am thrilled about joining the leadership team at SARRC,” says Thoene.  “I was drawn to SARRC not only because of the wonderful work being done for those with autism spectrum disorders, but also because of the people and the culture at SARRC.  This exciting new opportunity will allow me to utilize my skill set in an environment that is team oriented, supportive and progressive,” continued Thoene.

Gary Jaburg copy copy

Jaburg Wilk attorney appointed to SARRC

Phoenix business law firm Jaburg Wilk Managing Partner Gary Jaburg has been appointed Vice Chair of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), effective January 1, 2015.
Gary joined SARRC after attending its annual breakfast seven years ago, where he discovered the large impact SARRC makes on those affected with autism. He has been a member of the Board of Directors for three years.
“SARRC is a great cause, and I am looking forward to my new role as Vice Chair,” said Jaburg.
SARRC is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to autism research, education, evidence-based treatment, and community outreach. SARRC is one of the only autism organizations in the world that provides a lifetime of services for individuals and their families while also conducting cutting edge research.
For more information or to get involved, visit http://www.autismcenter.org/.
D_Openden 2013

Openden Named SARRC President and CEO

This month, Daniel Openden, Ph.D, BCBA-D, begins as the new president and CEO of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), a move announced earlier this year as part of SARRC’s leadership succession plan. Dr. Openden has served as SARRC’s vice president and clinical services director since 2007.  He succeeds Jeri Kendle as president.

“With 1 in 64 children in Arizona impacted by autism and 1 in 88 across the U.S., our work at SARRC is in greater demand than ever before. We are modifying our treatments to meet the developmental needs of younger children since the field is rapidly progressing at identifying infants and toddlers with autism. At the same time, children with autism quickly become adults with autism, so SARRC will continue to be a leader in the development of innovative programs that support independence and inclusion in the community,” said Openden.

The next 100 days represent an exciting and historic time as the organization explores the replication of SARRC’s nationally recognized best practices pre-school program; support the unique and unmet needs of adult women with autism through a women’s empowerment program; grow SARRC’s social enterprise programs, such as the Beneficial Beans Café at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library; and advance plans for an adult residential transition program. SARRC’s research team is also underway on 13 pharmaceutical trials and developing a web-based application accessed through smartphones—the Naturalistic Observation Diagnostic Assessment (NODA)—to accelerate early diagnoses, particularly for families that live outside of large metropolitan areas.

Dr. Openden was recruited to SARRC from the renowned Koegel Autism Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Since beginning at SARRC, he has created financial sustainability and growth across SARRC’s clinical programs. In addition, he has developed an innovative, cutting-edge inclusive preschool program recognized as a “best practices” model by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); initiated SARRC’s Remote Telemedicine Program to provide services to families living outside of Maricopa County; and serves the autism community nationally through his leadership on the Scientific Council of the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) and Autism Speaks Family Services Committee. He is also a founding member of the Council on Autism Services (CAS), a networking organization that brings together presidents, CEOs, executive directors, clinical directors, and program directors to share high level information and identify gaps facing autism service delivery organizations.

“It is truly an honor to lead such an outstanding team and, together with our Board of Directors and the generosity of SARRC’s donors and partners, serve the autism community. We are all committed to providing individuals with autism and their families with greater hope through our research, programs and services,” said Openden.

Kendle, who served as SARRC’s president since 2009, has been part of SARRC since its inception, formerly serving on SARRC’s Board of Directors and as its Vocational & Life Skills Academy director. Kendle is continuing her involvement with SARRC as Social Enterprise Strategist and will focus on the establishment, expansion and replication of SARRC’s innovative social enterprise programs.

Laurie Sandau

SARRC Appoints Laurie Sandau as Development Director

The Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) has hired Laurie Sandau as its development director.

Sandau brings an extensive background in nonprofits, business development and strategic marketing.

She previously served as the executive director of the Neurofibromatosis Association of Arizona and held business development roles at Lawyers Title National Commercial Services and Grand Canyon Title Agency.

“Laurie’s years of experience in business development and non-profit leadership along with her personal passion for our mission will enable SARRC to grow strategically and serve a greater number of individuals and families affected by autism,” said Jeri Kendle, SARRC president.

Sandau has been involved with many community organizations through the years including NAIOP, AZ Crew, Valley Partnership and Urban Land Institute.

“SARRC is already nationally known for extraordinary research, services and training. I’m excited to drive the organization’s reach even further by developing the essential resources needed to serve individuals with autism and their families,” Sandau said.

Sandau earned a bachelor of arts from the University of Arizona.

Evening on the Diamond Presented by University of Phoenix

D-Backs CEO earns Goldwater award

Arizona Diamondbacks President & CEO Derrick Hall has been named the 2012 recipient of the Goldwater Community Service Award and will be honored at the 29th Noche de Gourmet Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, at the Wrigley Mansion. The Goldwater Community Service Awards, presented by the Active 20-30 Club of Phoenix, honors a community leader with a strong record of philanthropic involvement, professional success in their field of work, and a desire to give back to the Phoenix area through serving on charitable and corporate boards and through public service.

“I am honored to be the first recipient of this prestigious award in a category where every nominee is truly deserving,” said Hall. “The Active 20-30 Club is a distinguished philanthropic club that works hard to improve the lives of children across the Valley, and I am proud to represent and be recognized by such an illustrious group of individuals.”

Hall was chosen among five nominees, including Arizona Treasurer and former Founder & CEO of Cold Stone Doug Ducey, Phoenix City Councilmember and Attorney for PING William Gates, Founder of Beyond the Flames Jason Schechterle and Executive Director of The First Tee of Phoenix Hugh Smith, Jr. The annual award is given to an individual who shows high moral and ethical character and will set the standard for the men of the Active 20-30 Club of Phoenix to achieve as they continue to grow and develop in their profession and in their community.

A proven leader in the Arizona community, Hall currently serves as Chairman of the Board for Valley of the Sun United Way and leads the Hunger-Free Communities Plan Steering Committee, and is an active member of the Thunderbirds and Young President’s Organization. He serves on 27 boards, including the Arizona Mexico Commission, Great Hearts Academies, Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Advisory Council for Pancreatic Cancer, US Airways Education Foundation, St. Vincent de Paul and Florence Crittendon. He has also raised money by serving as an event chairman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and the Foundation for Blind Children.


Valley Partnership's 25th Annual Community Project Transforms Lives, and SARRC's Facilities

The brisk early morning air was an encouraging start to the day of hard work ahead for volunteers gathered at the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) to participate in Valley Partnership’s 25th annual community project.

About 150 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds gravitated towards the unfinished mural on the back wall of SARRC’s Colonel Sanders location on 16th and Cypress streets in Phoenix. The mural, waiting to be filled in with vibrant paint, was the product of SARRC’s students and graphic artist Lisa MacCollum.

The goal of Valley Partnership’s 25th community project wasn’t just to finish the mural. It was to completely renovate the backyard of the Colonel Sanders location. Landscaping, an addition of a large shed, a garden and a greenhouse were all part of project day.

SARRC’s main location on 18th and Van Buren streets also had its children’s garden remodeled, planter boxes installed and a mural painted.

Volunteers consisted of Valley Partnership members and member donors such as Adolfson & Peterson, Vestar, Ryan Companies US Inc., Caretaker Landscape and Markham Contracting. Students from Saint Thomas Aquinas grade school also participated, with a total of 28 student volunteers and parents.

SARRC President Jeri Kendle had a busy day as she helped direct volunteers and participated in the renovation herself. Her excitement was apparent. This project was the culmination of about six months of collaborative volunteer work between Valley Partnership and SARRC.

“I’m excited about everything,” Kendle said. “It’s so incredible to see Valley Partnership support us in such a big way.”

With these changes, SARRC officials hope to further the goal of assisting adult clients in finding employment and expanding their Autism Artisan classes.

“It’s about building a better future for adults with autism,” Kendle explained.

Rick Hearn, Vestar’s director of leasing and this year’s Valley Partnership’s chairman, was not afraid to get his hands dirty as he hauled wheelbarrow loads of gravel.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s hard work. It’s 120 people working hard, side by side. That’s amazing and it’s all done by volunteers,” Hearn said proudly.

Hearn was hauling mulch when he stopped to look at the project’s progress. In just a few hours, the backyard was starting to come together.

“What it boils down to is paying it forward. We’ve made a contribution and we’re making someone’s life better. That’s the reward,” Hearn said.

The project’s retail cost would be about half a million dollars, Hearn said, explaining “we get it done for a lot less and with volunteer effort.”

“Valley Partnership is a great organization to be a part of for our company. We’re all members of this organization because we believe in their balanced advocacy effort,” Hearn said.

Richard Hubbard, president and CEO of Valley Partnership, worked alongside everyone as well.

“We’ve supported SARRC in smaller ways but this is where we’ve really stepped up,” Hubbard said while observing the backyard’s transformation.

Over the next 60 days, the finishing touches will be added and a monument dedicated to the late Lee Hanley, founder of Vestar and former chair of Valley Partnership, Hubbard said.

The materials and labor for the project were all donated, Hubbard said, adding that “many of these companies are here every year (on project day) and contribute material and money every year.”

Mike Markham Jr., vice president and COO at Markham Contracting, has been working with Valley Partnership for 10 years and was the project committee chairman this year. As far as the design process, Markham did not take the reins in that area, but he was excited about the actual working process.

“I’m a contractor. I like building things,” Markham said laughing.

McCollum guided volunteers on the mural project, which was about 100 feet long and only colored in partially at the start of the morning.

“It’s an interesting process. I see a lot of blank wall when I look at it but then I see the vibrant colors and the progression and I smile. The process is what I like,” McCollum said.

“The beauty is great, but turning employment into reality and seeing everyone out here working towards that cause is the real treasure,” Kendle said.



Valley Partnership's 25th Community Project: SARRC helping young, autistic baker realize his dreams

The sounds of drilling, shoveling and excited chatter will permeate the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) on Nov. 3 during its renovations, courtesy of Valley Partnership’s 25th community project.

SARRC’s location at Cypress and 16th streets will be receiving renovations which will directly benefit its Vocational and Life Skills Academy by renovating the Garden Works area. The Garden Works program helps grow produce for the Culinary Works program.  It also helps teach adults with autism spectrum disorders gardening skills, says Cece Russell, SARRC’s Social Enterprise Manager.

Both the Culinary Works program and Garden Works program are part of the Vocational and Life Skills Academy. Culinary Works is an 8-week program that trains adults with autism in the culinary field, Russell says.

It was through SARRC that Matt Cottle, 23, discovered his love of baking. Cottle participated in the Culinary Works program and SARRC later connected him with Heather Netzloff, who taught Cottle how to bake through one-on-one lessons.

“I liked the feeling of baking and I knew I had a talent for it,” Cottle says, adding, “Why not do it for a living?”

Each morning Cottle bakes pastries for his business, Stuttering King Bakery. Cottle is a young business owner with big dreams, much as any other business owner. Cottle’s journey into adulthood has been different, though, because Cottle is autistic

Cottle was born, raised and lived in Colorado until his junior of high school when he moved to Phoenix with his family. A job opportunity for his father brought the Cottles to Arizona.  The transition from Colorado to Phoenix was tough, Cottle says, but eventually he made friends and adjusted.

High school graduation brought more questions and concerns for the Cottle family.

“I had zero idea what I wanted to do until I started thinking things through,” Cottle says.

Cottle had been looking for ways to gain experience in the work force, but with little success.

“For two and half years people had been slamming doors in my face,” Cottle recalls.

With SARRC’s help and his family’s support, Cottle was able to pursue his dream of starting his own baking business. Stuttering King Bakery provides Beneficial Beans Café, a social enterprise by SARRC, with all of its pastries. Stuttering King Bakery also takes private orders online or via telephone.

The best-selling item on Cottle’s menu is his banana chocolate chip muffins. He says he also loves them because he used to bake them with his mom when he was younger. Cookies, biscotti, cakes, and muffins are all on Stuttering King Bakery’s menu.

Cottle currently bakes everything from home since he has a Maricopa County Home Bake license, but that may change soon with the help of Seed Spot, a nonprofit organization that supports select Arizona entrepreneurs.

Cottle recently participated in the first Seed Spot event. Seed Spot is helping Cottle build a website and kitchen within its building in Downtown Phoenix, he says.

Stuttering King Bakery was named after English King George VI. Cottle loved the inspirational message of hope from the film, “The King’s Speech.”

Cottle says he hopes to one day have his own building for his bakery. He has his eye on one, currently, and envisions it with a few tables, 10 bakers, and interns interested in the culinary arts. He wants to hire adults with autism in his bakery, too.

“Matt is definitely an example of the positive impact SARRC has on adults with autism spectrum disorders and their family,” Russell says proudly.

Cottle has big dreams and even bigger plans.

“Hopefully I’ll expand my bakery all over Arizona and nationwide one day. And maybe, just maybe, become the first autistic politician.”