New Center for Autism Community to Open in May
Autism Community Store Expands its Reach, Thanks in Part to Denver Mill Levy Funding for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD)
Autism Community Store co-founder Shannon Sullivan stands amidst the renovations of the new store location where the Autism Community Center is scheduled to open in May.
The Autism Community Store is one of only two retail stores in the country with the sole purpose of serving the autism community, co-founder Shannon Sullivan said. Now, the store is moving to a larger location that will expand its offerings to help even more individuals with autism and their families. The expansion is possible in part because of funding from the Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) Mill Levy Program for Denver residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The vision has always been to create a space where people feel comfortable, and where everyone can find the things they need including opportunities to learn and gather,” Shannon said.
Shannon has had this goal for 10 years – ever since originally opening the store with her father in 2009 at 7800 East Iliff Ave., in Denver. As a parent of a child with autism, she experienced how isolating autism can be and how challenging it is to find resources and information. She saw an unmet need in the autism community that she wanted to fulfill. The store is currently the only retail location where you can find therapy tools, sensory products, teaching supplies, autism toys, supplements, books and everything needed to support individuals on the autism spectrum. They also offer trainings, support groups and events dedicated to serving the autism community.
A portion of the new 5,500-square-foot location will house the new Autism Community Center, as well as a sensory cave and rental spaces for local organizations that serve the same communities. When the center opens, Consultants for Children and Step Therapy Pediatrics will rent space there. Consultants for Children offers behavioral therapies, assessments and mental health counseling, and Step Therapy Pediatrics offers speech, occupational and physical therapy to children.
The center will be at the back of the facility with a separate entrance, and will include a community room and a Family Resource and Support Center. The community room will be available for Autism Community Store programming and public use. Shannon hopes families, support groups and organizations use the space for a variety of purposes, from trainings to support groups to yoga. It will have a kitchenette, projector and seating for up to 40 people.
The Family Resource and Support Center will have a lending library and extensive print and electronic resources. Expert parent navigators will be available on a walk-in basis to offer support, information and referrals to appropriate resources and services.
“The Community Center will be a place where our families, friends, teachers and therapists can come together to learn and play – a place where everyone feels they belong,” Shannon said.
Projected to benefit over 1,500 Denver residents, the Autism Community Center received funding from the RMHS Mill Levy Program. Through the program, RMHS receives a portion of Denver property tax revenue from Denver Human Services to support community organizations that are providing unique services to Denver residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Autism Community Store used the mill levy funding to pay for program development, staff training and some equipment and supply purchases for the community center.
Autism Community Store Marketing and Community Outreach Coordinator Stephanie Webb shows the skeleton of the new store as it’s being built on April 2.
The renovations have moved quickly. Just a few weeks ago, the drywall wasn’t up yet. Shannon hopes to open the whole facility before the Autism Community Store Resource Fair on May 19. The fair, to be held behind the new store at 14095 East Exposition Ave. in Aurora, brings organizations that serve the autism community together for families and individuals to access.
Shannon said they have been reaching out to families and self-advocates, as well as other organizations and support groups, to let them know that the new Autism Community Center will be available to them.
“We really look forward to working with our community partners to have meaningful and authentic gatherings,” Shannon said. Learn more about the Autism Community Store on the store’s website and stay up to date by liking the Facebook page. Visit the new store location during the Autism Resource Fair on May 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 14095 East Exposition Ave., in Aurora.