For years, Arizona has ranked near the bottom of national rankings for poverty, education or other family/community issues regarding welfare of children. In 2013, Arizona was 49th in pre-school education, and 49% of Arizona children lived in poverty. Arizona children also face health hazards. One in 68 children in Arizona suffer from autism. These conditions endanger Arizona’s viability and progress. By coincidence, on April 24, 2015, the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix was host to two major events that brought thousands of Arizonans together to learn about health and education crises threatening their children.
People from throughout the State left their houses at dawn to arrive at the annual Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) breakfast. The event, founded by Denise Resnik, whose son was diagnosed 20 years ago, had over 1100 attendees. The atmosphere of this 17th SARRC Breakfast seemed very different than the beginning ones.
In the early years, as in the first years of the AIDS epidemic, there was horror, grief, fear, ignorance, uncertainty, and helplessness. Of course, Friday, there were still a few tears (e.g., when a father described his autistic son being a wedding ring bearer). But this breakfast was full of good news about progress in detection, early intervention, and identifying/attacking barriers. Internship programs with corporations, like Sprouts and Delta Dental, were featured.
The most heartening stories were about young adults. Resnik’s 23-year-old son Matt founded his own business SMILE Biscotti. Ian McCoy, aspiring hip hop artist, brought the crowd to its feet with his inspiring speech about his first apartment in the First Place Residential Transition Academy (Resnik’s independent living center), and his first job with Fractured Prune Doughnut.
Two hours later, another full room joined in a conversation about United for Our Students, an initiative started by United Way to address the educational challenges in Arizona. National and local speakers, including Governor Doug Ducey, discussed the need for common agendas, collaborative leadership, practicing values, and, especially, taking action to continually improve. A panel, including Superintendent Kent Scribner and Chancellor Rufus Glasper, stressed the need to have more diverse teachers, realign desired outcomes, and address learning gaps earlier.
Both the Thriving Together Arizona and SARRC’s “Take the Next Step,” initiatives are dependent on Arizonans recognizing all children as assets, not problems, and actively helping them reach their full potential.