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Denise Resnik: Leading the Way SARRC Opens Academy to Support Teens and Adults with Autism Learn Skills & Find Jobs



Contact: Denise Resnik

(602) 956-8834


Opus West Vocational & Life Skills Academy to provide 
training, job placement and career mentoring

The Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) has announced the opening of its Opus West Vocational & Life Skills Academy (VLSA), a 10,000-square-foot facility in Central Phoenix (2225 N. 16th St.).

The VLSA is designed to help young adults and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) determine how their interests and abilities can be applied in the work place as they also learn the necessary life skills that enhance their ability to live and work more independently.

Navigating an economic downturn is challenging for us all, but for individuals with autism, exceedingly high unemployment is the unfortunate norm, said Jeri Kendle, vice president and director of the VLSA and SARRC's interim president and chief operating officer. Nationally, the unemployment rate for adults with autism spectrum disorders is 90 percent. We are doing everything in our power to improve those numbers.

SARRC begins those efforts with teenagers ages 13 to 18 through its pre-vocational program, Autism CommunityWorks®. In this program, teens with ASDs and typical peer mentors build friendships and learn new skills together at the Phoenix Zoo, Burton Barr Central Library, Arizona Science Center, the Desert Botanical Garden and a variety of local nonprofits. Over a 12-month period, the 136 teens enrolled in the program contributed more than 5,000 hours of community service.

Once they turn 18, individuals can move from this pre-vocational program to SARRC's vocational program.

Through job training, placement and career mentoring, we want to ensure that individuals with autism are employed in meaningful jobs and rewarding careers that promote independence and enriching experiences, said Denise D. Resnik, SARRC co-founder and board development chair. As the population of individuals with autism ages, the demand for career services and training is increasing rapidly. SARRC's Opus West Vocational & Life Skills Academy will go a long way to meet this demand and fill a critical community need.

The VLSA's employment program has already enrolled 70 adults and is working with employers such as Outback Steakhouse, Hensley & Co., PetSmart, Westcor, Kolbe Corporation, Marriott and others.

While many employers shy away from hiring individuals with autism because of their social differences, others understand their value, Kendle added. These individuals are hard-working, loyal and punctual, and often bring out the best in their fellow co-workers.

The VLSA building includes training rooms, a recreational area and a lifestyle area where individuals with ASDs learn practical skills such as doing laundry, menu planning, cooking, cleaning and managing a budget.

At Opus West, we have a long history of using our company's best assets: our people and our skills as builders to give back to the community, said Thomas W. Roberts, president of Opus West. We're proud of our work with SARRC and look forward to the success stories we are confident will come out of the Academy in the years to come.


Founded in 1997, the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) is a nonprofit, community-based organization dedicated to autism research, education and resources for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). SARRC undertakes self-directed and collaborative research projects, serves as a satellite site for national and international projects, and provides up-to-date education, training and assistance to families and professionals about ASDs. To learn more about SARRC, visit



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