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The Aspire Internship Program is designed to help adults with high cognitive autism spectrum disorder or a related profile navigate the various aspects of the work environment while gaining important on-the-job skills.
By Dot Lucci, MEd, CAGS
Labor Day Weekend was spent in Jackson Hole, WY for nine Aspire interns and four staff members! This was our second trip to Jackson Hole and it is sponsored by Tony Aquila and his company, Solera. Solera Holdings, Inc is a leading provider of risk and asset management software and services to the automotive and property marketplace. Tony is personally committed to giving back to the community and creating experiences that challenge people to become the best they can be. We are so fortunate to be the recipient of Tony’s generosity and our interns are challenged by this experience and do dramatically grow!
Scott McLeod, Executive Director, Brett Mulder, our Teen and Adult Manager, Leslie O'Brien, our Internship Program Manager, and I accompanied the interns for truly an experience of a lifetime. The purpose of the trip is to challenge each intern to personally grow. Some challenges included: traveling independently, meeting new people, riding a horse, and dealing with uncertainty while managing anxiety. The interns were exposed to new experiences that pushed their comfort zones and limits. For starters the only person that knew everyone was Leslie so as a group we were all pushed to get to know one another. I have to say that by the end of this five day adventure each participant was connected to one another and this group of individuals had bonded into a cohesive whole. Two phrases that became our mantra was be present and go with the flow.
There were many moments of awe and wonder as well as trepidation and fear. The awe and excitement of seeing moose and a black bear was palpable as was the fear and anxiety of riding a horse for the first time. Our instructors at Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding Association taught us that the horses can feel our anxiety and they communicate nonverbally. Each intern recognized their anxiety impacted their horse so slow deep breathing was practiced by all! We went horseback riding every day and on the final day we went on a trail ride at the base of the Teton Mountains. There was some concern that weather would prevent the ride but only a few raindrops fell and then the sun came out for spectacular views. Other highlights included an afternoon kayaking on beautiful Spring Lake and a tram ride to the top of a local mountain for breathtaking views of the surrounding area. We rounded the trip out with two true western experiences of a rodeo and a chuck wagon dinner. The final night was spent at Tony’s ranch where a few participants decided to sleep under the stars in tents, cabins and a wagon.
Amidst all the activities and challenges, the group bonded and supported each other. Each person purposefully challenged themselves by setting meaningful goals and by being present and going with the flow. Every day started and ended with a group meeting. We would reflect on our day and those of others. We shared our goals with each other and encouraged each other to take risks and build on every success. Once back home, we met this week to reflect on the experience and send thank you notes to Solera and each of the programs that were involved.
Tony has expressed interest in continuing this experience next year.We are forever grateful for this amazing opportunity and Aspire is extremely thankful for their commitment to our interns. Their support has been impressive not only with the financing, but they, including Tony, have taken a personal interest in each intern and in making the experience personally valuable.
Please take a moment to look at the photos and information at the web site dedicated to the summit: http://aspirationsummit.com/.
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