By Brent Jackson
I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in July 2018 from Columbus, Ohio after being accepted to the First Place Transition Academy [operated by SARRC] program. I’ve always enjoyed visiting Arizona on vacations and spring break adventures when I was in middle school, and knew that Arizona was somewhere I would love to live at some point, eventually.
After orientation and being fully moved into First Place-Phoenix, I had no idea what to expect from the program. Moving across the country to be part of this amazing program was a huge adjustment for me, let alone living with three roommates with autism as well.
Before hearing about First Place-Phoenix, I never would’ve thought something like this program existed. Once enrolled, my peers from the Transition Academy and I attended classes at Gateway Community College (GWCC)—which was more of a refresher for me as I had already been through a two-year college where I received my associate degree in Culinary Arts in 2008.
As a student within the Transition Academy, I learned to advocate for myself and get out of my shell by asking for help. (I will say that asking for help was the key to propelling me forward in learning how to be more independent.) Probably the biggest life skill I learned about, and still utilizing to this day, is budgeting. It is not something they teach you how to do in high school or even college. Had that happened, I feel I would have been a little more prepared in that sense.
I have 17 years of experience in grocery retail, but after resigning from Kroger in June 2017, I knew it was time to change things up when it came to finding a job here in Phoenix. So, when an opportunity came up at the library at GWCC, I immediately jumped on the train to apply.
My first day of work at the library was October 1, 2018 and I am still employed there to this day as a Library Technician. But now, even with COVID-19, I have more responsibilities than I had when I first started working there. This is the first job I’ve had where I can say that I genuinely and confidently love my job. (We are nowhere near as busy as we were before COVID became a worldwide pandemic, but we are just busy enough. I love helping students and seeing them succeed. It brings me so much gratitude and joy.)
During my first year in the Transition Academy, we had rules and structure to follow. For example curfew was huge—Sunday through Thursday, I had to be back on campus by 11 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays, the curfew was midnight. I had additional responsibilities that included cleaning, budgeting, cooking observations, to name a few. I have always been very keen on structure and rules to follow. Without those, I would not be where I am today. The program really helped me grow and mature more than I ever thought was possible.
Having outlets outside of the program is hugely important as well. The program’s staff during my two years in the program really helped push and challenge me to be where I am today. They played a huge part in my success.
I am very involved in my church where I participate in a small group that meets on Wednesday evenings; I love cooking meals on Monday nights for my girlfriend and me, and staying active is very important to me. I also enjoy going out to eat from time to time when my budget allows.
For those that are interested in joining the program or simply need some inspiration, all I can say is this: I personally experienced a lot of growth not only as an individual with autism but I didn’t let that define me. Autism is a huge part of who I am. Don’t let other people put you into a category. Just because they’ve met you multiple times or maybe just briefly, doesn’t give them the right to judge you and think you’re the same as everyone else with a learning difference.
As to where I am today: I graduated from the Transition Academy in June 2020, still happily employed at the GWCC library, and a resident at First Place-Phoenix living in a one-bedroom apartment. I do drive and my car is here with me as well. Moving to Arizona from the Midwest was definitely the best decision for me. Don’t be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone. Life is scary, of course, but you have to get out of your shell and explore. Be the best you that you can be.