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Evernham Gift Helps Found Autism Community Center:

Evernham Gift Helps Found Autism Community Center:

Evernham Gift Helps Found Autism Community Centerignite-announcement-resized
by David Boraks
October 11, 2012

Davidson has been chosen as the home for a new regional community center and training program for adults with high-functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome. The program, called IGNITE, will be based at the Davidson Cotton Mill and and is being funded with a grant from a foundation started by NASCAR crew chief Ray Evernham.

Mr. Evernham has been working with the Autism Society of North Carolina to create the new program, which will open this fall to offer social activities, skills training, and educational workshops. The goal, according to the Autism Society, is to foster “as much social, financial, educational and employment independence as possible for its members.”

IGNITE is being described as the first program of its kind in the Charlotte area.

Mr. Evernham said this week he was inspired to help found the new program because of his family’s experience with 21-year-old son Ray J.

When people with high functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome finish high school, or reach college and find themselves ready for independent living, they often find themselves without resources. They must find work, training and social opportunities. Many wind up underemployed or unemployed and at home alone, the autism society says.

“As these children get older, past high school, there are not a lot of things they can to do learn, get job skills (and) social skills,” Mr. Evernham said at Tuesday’s Davidson Town Board meeting. There also are few places for them to meet for social gatherings, he said.

“It’s something that from the heart I feel strongly about, and I can’t think of a better place than Davidson,” Mr. Evernham said.

IGNITE has chosen Stacy Hultgren as its first program director. She is the parent of a child with autism, and has more than 20 years’ experience in the autism field. She co-founded and served as co-director of the Connecticut Autism Spectrum Resource Center for seven years, and helped establish the Benhaven Learning Center, a Connecticut-based private special education school.

The Autism Society of NC has leased 2,400 square feet in the Davidosn Cotton Mill for IGNITE. Mr. Evernham said IGNITE will “provide a place for people to socially interact, to work on job skills and work to be part of the community. We hope to rely on some of our small businesses here to help with training and job opportunities.”

Mayor John Woods welcomed the program to Davidson and offered the town’s support. “We support you … and hope it will be successful and grow for other communities.”