Two women prepare vegetables in a kitchen.

First to the Table Brings Culinary Training to Young Adults with Autism


First Place AZ was established in 2012 with the mission of empowering young adults with autism and other neuro-diversities through continued education, employment, healthcare and housing. The organization aims to ensure that community and housing options are as accessible to these young adults as they are to everyone else.

In 2018, the First Place Apartments opened their doors, welcoming in new residents. Located in the heart of downtown Phoenix, this 81,000 square foot apartment complex provides a safe place for individuals with autism and other neuro-diversities who are transitioning out of their family home for the first time. Residents at First Place are part of a vibrant community, with weekly group activities focused on health, recreation, arts, and culture.

To help its residents with their career readiness and interpersonal skills, First Place runs the Transition Academy, a two-year program that teaches topics like nutrition, finances, and relationships. With 94% of participants graduating and 88% moving out of First Place following the program, the curriculum gives residents the confidence they need to live independently.

With autism diagnoses rising over the past 20 years, from one in 2,500 children to one in 59 children, First Place also created the Global Leadership Institute which brings together leading autism experts to enhance services and support options for these young adults and to increase opportunities that set them up for success in adulthood.

As a 2019 Neighborhood Grant recipient, First Place was able to expand its residents’ health and nutrition education programming. With the help of professional chefs, First Place created the First to the Table Chef-Led Learning project to engage residents in hands-on learning. The program offers easy-to-follow recipes, cooking tips and demonstrations, and it allows these young adults to engage all five senses in the kitchen. It also provides an opportunity to build friendships and trust while learning practical cooking skills for employability and independent living. By partnering with Blue Watermelon Project (another 2019 Neighborhood Grant recipient) First Place residents can participate in off-site activities like school gardening and restaurant visits, giving them even greater insight into the food industry.

The unique programs and housing options at First Place continue to help individuals with autism and other neuro-diversities achieve independence, and they prove that given the right tools and resources, these young adults can be set up for success and truly thrive.

Chef Charleen Badman demonstrates cooking techniques in the kitchen at First Place.

A First to the Table program participant harvests produce from the garden.