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New Space and New Energy for ACLE in Greensboro

In 2022, the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Greensboro services moved into a new building. As a result, the Autism Center for Life Enrichment (ACLE), our day program in Greensboro, received a makeover. ACLE’s new space includes so many opportunities for participants. There are rooms to practice a variety of skills – from a model grocery store to practice shopping and social interactions to a laundry station to practice washing, drying, and folding. The space includes several large rooms for gathering as a group, including a café, a game room, and an exercise room. Throughout the space, there are games, books, and boxes of skill-building activities. Just outside, there are swings and a community garden.

ACLE’s participants stay busy – their typical monthly schedule includes cooking activities, sign language classes, holiday parties, art projects, dance parties, yoga classes, and more. In the warmer months, they work on gardening skills and composting leftover food to use as a fertilizer in the garden. Plus, participants go out to explore and engage with their community; recent activities included bowling, playing games in the park, and visiting the Greensboro Science Center, local libraries, and zoo.

“We’re focused on building a meaningful program,” said Mish’a-el Shealy, ACLE’s director. “Our participants work on skills, but we also ask what they want to do, and we find a way to accommodate that. It’s a great place to grow.”

A Full Calendar of Fun and Fulfilling Activities

ACLE’s robust calendar of activities is created by Shealy, Kassie Kinney, Program Lead, and Ti Alston, Activity Lead. All emphasize that participant preference is integral to scheduling activities.

“I want people to look forward to coming here,” said Alston. “If I find out a participant is interested in something, I’ll find a way to fit it in. Our participants want to have fun and be in the community, and we can provide all of that.”

Kinney, who started with the Autism Society of North Carolina directly out of college as a direct support professional and was promoted to program lead, said that participants currently love anything that gets them up and moving – dance, yoga, and games that incorporate exercise, to name a few. “During those activities, we see great interactions between participants and connections being made,” she said.

Kinney said that participants are interested and engaged in the skill-building activities and are making incredible progress toward reaching their individual goals: “I get to see participants do things no one thought they would be able to do. Others often put limitations on our participants, but our participants work very hard to overcome those ideas.”

“We want to expand the activities offered because every participant is so different,” Kinney continued. “We have a big opportunity to see where each person thrives and then build on that. ACLE is an enriching environment with lots of room for growth for participants.”

Moving and Grooving in Recreational Therapy

At ACLE, participants have the opportunity to work one-on-one with Robert Callaham, who has worked at the Autism Society of North Carolina for more than 20 years. Callaham is a recreational therapist who is skilled at getting participants excited about physical activity.

“When I can see that a participant is not engaged, I might start singing or dancing,” Callaham said. “Everyone responds to that. I’ll sing out the reps, and that keeps the participant interested in the activity.”

In addition to singing, Callaham incorporates each participant’s interests into their individual exercises so that it feels like play; often, he said, something as simple as adding a fun twirl into an exercise keeps the participant interested and motivated in finishing a set.

“Some of our sessions might actually be harder than what a typical gym client would do, but because it’s presented differently, there’s excitement from our participants,” Callaham said. “I work on making the session fun so that they leave with a smile.”

Callaham knows that when participants leave his sessions with a smile, they’re more likely to return and to continue to exercise on their own. “Exercise is important, but so is happiness,” he said. “It’s best when people are happy while they exercise.”

Building Community Partnerships

ACLE has developed several unique and fulfilling community partnerships. Twice a week, graduate students from UNC Greensboro visit ACLE to teach staff and participants how to use communication boards and improve their communication skills. The students, who are studying speech and language, lead the participants in cooking activities and skill-building games while using the boards, so that participants build functional communication skills in a variety of settings. “All of our participants are different, so we need a variety of communication tools,” said Shealy. “The students are helping our participants communicate more effectively and express their preferences.”

ACLE has also partnered with A Special Blend, a coffee shop in Greensboro that employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Once a month, ACLE participants and staff lead an activity at A Special Blend, such as trivia or bingo.

The program’s garden beds were made possible with donations from Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School and built by Josh Hanflink and his family. Hanflink has volunteered at ACLE for several years, and his family made a donation to expand the garden, which was matched by Arch Mortgage Insurance. ACLE will be working with the Hanflinks and representatives from Guilford County 4-H on the garden expansion and creating more opportunities for participants to learn and practice horticulture.

Shealy is also focused on identifying additional volunteer opportunities for participants. Several are already volunteering as part of their day at ACLE, but more would like to be involved.

“A Lifesaver” for Families

Jerry Stone has worked at ACLE since September 2021. He’s also a parent of one of the participants, and he encourages other parents and caregivers to consider ACLE as a place for their loved one to thrive.

“This is a place where everyone can participate and everyone can choose their activity,” Stone said. “Everyone has each other’s back here, and the community is great.”

Stone continued: “ACLE is very safe, very welcoming, and we love all of our participants. Caregivers should feel confident that we can handle anything. Everyone is so well-trained. It’s a second home for our participants, and it’s been a lifesaver to me.”


ACLE is accepting new participants! Contact Michael LePage, Regional Services Director, at mlepage@autismsociety-nc.org to learn more.


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