When COVID-19 halted the work of nonprofits, closed many small businesses and impacted daily life, a lot of people were left wondering how their world would survive.
It was time to get creative. In fact, for some, the pandemic pivot has proven to be the thing that was needed to grow.
For Arts ‘n Autism, a nonprofit in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that serves children and families with autism, the pandemic created an opportunity to partner with Stillman College, a private, historically Black liberal arts school. Stillman donated classroom space for Arts ‘n Autism students to continue learning in a safe and socially distant manner. Regions Bank helped, too.
Regions donated $10,000 to expand the number of aides, tutors and job coaches for students in the Learning is Fundamental for Education and Employment program (LIFEE). The program helps students who have graduated high school and are looking for opportunities to lead happy, productive lives in their communities. For some, it means help with college courses and a certification or degree, and for others it means helping connect to job openings and preparing for a job interview.
“Regions Bank is committed to supporting programs and opportunities that provide value for everyone in our community to be successful,” said Elizabeth Winter, Regions’ Tuscaloosa market executive. “Arts ‘n Autism is doing incredible things to transform the lives of students on the autism spectrum. The job training provides a real economic benefit to employers and a pathway to careers for students. It’s a win-win for our community, and Regions is proud to provide funding to help Arts ‘n Autism continue its mission.
Turner Cargile, director of the LIFEE program says the funding from Regions will help the nonprofit serve more students.
“We are thankful to Regions Bank for the contribution that allows us to grow, serve more students on the autism spectrum and help them adjust to adulthood,” she said. “Our goal for students is simple. We want them to live a successful life, and Arts ‘n Autism is there to support them all the way.”
Taylor Wombwell recently enrolled at Arts ‘n Autism. In just a few short months, Taylor’s ability to follow instruction, take initiative and stay focused have improved. His family noticed he is happier and expressing himself through art therapy better than ever.
“Arts ‘n Autism saved our life,” said Amy Wombwell, Taylor’s mom. “If Taylor has a life, our family can have a life. Stillman College and Arts ‘n Autism have been incredible for us.”
Taylor excelled academically in high school and has completed some college courses. He wants to return to the classroom and either complete a degree or get a certification for a skilled job. The family is relocating from Birmingham to be closer to therapy and support.
“We know Taylor wants to complete college, and we are helping him figure out the best path forward so he can do just that,” Wombwell said. “It will be slow, but that’s okay because Arts ‘n Autism is helping prepare him for success when he is ready to take the next step. We couldn’t be prouder of their work with him.”
Through the nonprofit’s partnership with Stillman, students in the LIFEE program can enroll in Stillman and live on campus, if desired. Students can also complete a training certificate if college isn’t the right path for them. Additionally, the college has created a scholarship fund to help students and families with the cost of higher education.
“Through summer camps, visiting college campuses and our work with Stillman, we are showing our students that they can go to college. It isn’t out of reach for them,” Cargile said.
In the midst of the global pandemic, progress and opportunity remain. The Wombwell family is experiencing it. Regions Bank and Stillman College are helping support organizations through the transition. And Arts ‘n Autism is growing, even in a time of uncertainty.
“COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise for Arts ‘n Autism,” Cargile concluded. “It opened the door to so much more for our program.”
Check out other stories on Regions’ support of children and families with autism.