Reflecting on 25: Featuring Denise Resnik

We're celebrating 25 years! We caught up with SARRC co-Founder, Denise Resnik, who shared her favorite memories, lessons learned and much more!

REFLECTING ON 25: FEATURING SARRC CO-FOUNDER, Denise Resnik

SARRC was founded in 1997 by two dedicated mothers of children with autism, Denise Resnik and Cindy Schneider, along with their developmental pediatrician, Raun Melmed.

We connected with Denise on her personal reflections, favorite memories, progress made over the last 25 years, and more!


Did you ever envision SARRC would be the organization it is today? 

While it was hard back in 1997 to imagine SARRC as it is today—with hundreds of people and dozens of programs—I did have a vision for what SARRC would do, whom it would help and how it could impact the community to become a model for communities everywhere. I believe we are all living the dream, though possibly sleeping a bit less knowing there’s much more we need to do.

What I didn’t envision was establishing a second nonprofit to focus on real estate and community development. I’m thrilled how the two sister nonprofits SARRC and First Place® AZ work side by side and with other leading autism organizations to build and strengthen our community. 

What are you most proud of as SARRC co-founder? 

I'm most proud of the people who lead SARRC and continue attracting the best and brightest in the field, raising the bar on hopes and dreams for individuals and families everywhere. Together with First Place, we’ve created the most autism-friendly city in the world. Decades ago, I wanted to not only tell people with autism and their families that they could have a future that included friends, lifelong education, jobs, healthcare, and homes but also actually show them. Today we can!

What has been the biggest change from when SARRC was founded to now? 

The biggest change is size. SARRC was founded without any money, full-time dedicated talent or real estate. We grew organically and authentically, following market need and demands while also growing up with our kids of all ages. Early on, we delivered programs primarily for young children. Today, we address the lifespan. 

What are some of the most impactful lessons you've learned?

Big visions can't be realized all at once. They take more time, talent and treasure than originally imagined. Operationalizing a vision is not easy. It takes solid leadership and foundational elements, which is why it's important to identify what's attainable and most impactful—and not attempt to do everything all at once. I’m still learning how to discipline myself on that one!

What is your most memorable SARRC moment?

With SARRC, there's not just one most memorable moment! One of particular meaning to me was our very young son Matt captured on film singing Never Give Up on Wishes. He barely spoke at the time. Another was during the 2014 Annual Community Breakfast when I was able to publicly share for the first time how First Place and SARRC would move forward together to realize our shared dreams. 

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced when SARRC was first established? 

Without resources or a physical space, it wasn't easy to convey SARRC’s vision. So we created a mass mailing of “vision boxes” covered in Matt's small purple handprints and containing a video, pictures of our kids, informational materials—and lots of purple shred! We overcame that challenge in 1998 when we opened our first office and research lab, totaling 1,800 square feet with one dedicated staff member. How far we’ve come…together!