Justin and Janet’s journey together began twenty-five years ago when they met while working at a residential program for youth. Barely independent young adults themselves, they found a shared passion as they both gravitated to looking out for the needs of those who were often overlooked and misunderstood.
Beginning with entry-level positions as direct care staff, they quickly proved themselves and became prominent voices with responsibilities of guidance for the institutions.
Over the years, they both served a variety of leadership roles in a variety of organizations ranging from outpatient practice to residential therapy, and from therapeutic boarding schools to a wilderness program. Every opportunity brought with it new insights as they took the lessons they learned from each setting and set of responsibilities into the next situation.
While there were many positives, they also began to experience a growing awareness of limitations and areas where programs were lacking. They felt a desire to create a program that provided the individualized support students needed in the least restrictive way possible.
As their desire to create a more effective model grew, it lead them both at different times in their careers to step down from leadership opportunities in order return to school for a more specialized education. These decisions driven by a desire to ensure the services they are providing remain based on current research and best practices.
With over fifty years of combined industry experience, one of the lesson they have never lost sight of is that it is frequently not the people at the top of the organization that have the most influence on students’ growth and development.
While leadership roles provide wide influence in programs, those working first hand with the students are often the ones enacting the magic. Because of this we place a high value on ensuring the staff working with students are talented, experienced and energetic individuals; we work closely with each of them to provide specialized training and support in their crucial roles.
For Justin and Janet answering the simple question “how many children do you have?” is surprisingly complicated. While proud parents of four amazing biological children, to them the concept of family has always extended beyond blood.
Starting as newlyweds, they became home parents, supervising 15 “at risk” youth in residential treatment. Later, as therapeutic foster parents they frequently opened their home to teens who were needing a fresh start in a supportive environment. Recently they have expanded their family again by welcoming young adult and adolescent refugees into their home.
Their unusual amount of experience as parents of neurodiverse children, has forged them into strong advocates for the needs and rights of each individual learner. Their experiences have given them personal understanding of the challenges and complexities that arise in preparing and launching neurodiverse young adults.
While working with school systems, they started to see a familiar pattern from well-intentioned administrators, teachers and staff. When their children struggled academically, the school was quick to place blame on the student often labeling them as lazy, stubborn and unmotivated.
Teachers were reluctant to examine their own lack of ability to draw out talent and motivate students. School systems struggled to adapt to individual needs, find compromises and identify innovative solutions.
As parents they learned that while one technique works in motivating and inspiring one child the same approach can antagonize and demotivate another.
With children whose learning differences range from ADHD, high functioning autism, anxiety, traumatic brain injury, dyslexia, dysgraphia, trauma to depression, they have needed to continue learning and adapting to support the varied needs. They have learned to stay curious and be patient as they seek for individual solutions to help bring out the best in their children.
Justin understands first hand many of the challenges of trying to navigate and thrive in a world that is often biased towards specific personalities and styles of learning.
Over the years he has learned the importance of choosing which battles to fight and that at times it is necessary to jump through hoops, conforming to what others and society asks, in order to accomplish personal goals. On the other hand, he also understands the importance of challenging the status quo and advocating for change, helping others to see the wisdom and creativity that can flow from the neurodiverse mind.
Justin was diagnosed at a young age first with dyslexia and then later with ADHD. He will never forget the feeling of being pulled out of class and walking to the resource room to receive specialized support. No matter how nurturing and kind the special education staff treated him, he couldn’t help feeling singled out and “lesser than.”
As a high school student, Justin was often bored and unstimulated by what was happening in class. Feeling disengaged in the classroom, he instead spent class time on the ski slopes and hanging out with other teens who had little interest in school.
However, by his junior year it became clear to him that the path he was on did not lead to the life he wanted. After a frank discussion with his parents, together they determined that a change was needed and Justin enrolled in a youth program in Maui Hawaii.
There he was surrounded by a team of young adult staff whose examples still influence his thinking today. He considers his time in Hawaii as perhaps the most important year in his life.
Justin returned from Hawaii with new found commitment and purpose. Hoping to provide the same spark to others that he had experienced himself he enrolled in college to study human behavior and looked for work where he could influence others.
Learning to harness the strengths of his bright and creative brain while developing ways to better manage his rigidity and distractibility, he transformed himself into a honors student; while at the same time getting his career started working with teens in residential treatment.