A Celebration of Strengths

Abilities First provides a diverse range of services to families and children living with autism.

Abilities First is a nonprofit organization located in Middletown, Ohio. In 1958, seven families sought to create an organization that empowered families and children living with autism and other developmental disabilities. The result was an inclusive learning environment that celebrated the students’ strengths.

“The name, Abilities First, means something to us,” Executive Director David Hood tells us. “We believe that every child is gifted, talented, capable of learning and able to grow, so we focus on their abilities first rather than on areas that may differ from others.”

In 2023, Abilities First celebrated their 65th anniversary. Now they’re able to offer childcare, education and therapy under one roof. Their three key collaborative programs include an Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC), an Autism Learning Center (ALC) and a Pediatric Therapies program. They are also a partner of United Way of Warren County and Butler County United Way. 

“Part of the reason that Abilities First has had such staying power is that there is no lack of need for the services we provide in our region,” David explains. “All of our programs have waiting lists and we just opened two new classrooms to accommodate more children.”

For families who have children with differing abilities, Abilities First offers extra support with their newly created Success Liaison position. The Success Liaison assists families in applying for Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services vouchers or Medicaid, connecting with other community resources outside of Abilities First like behavioral health experts or specialized services and more. 

“We know the systems and structures that are in place to provide support and help are often very challenging to navigate and engage with and that can make these families feel very alone,” David clarifies. 

The Sturgis family of Middletown, who have had four of their children attend Abilities First over the past fourteen years, can only speak positively of their experience. 

“It’s really all about the teachers,” mother, Katie Sturgis says. “We know that our children are being taken care of, especially at their most vulnerable time of life. We have trust in everyone there.”

After raising more than $100,000 at their 65th Anniversary Gala in October, they are able to begin a major renovation of their Welcome Center.  

“We believe that first impressions matter, so we are renovating the Welcome Center, providing additional security and updating the look and feel. We want parents, who are trusting us with the most important people in their world, to feel a sense of confidence, trust and peace when they kiss their children goodbye,” David tells us.   

In terms of the future, further expansion will hopefully be in the cards. 

“Abilities First wants to be known in our region as ‘Best in Class’ for what we do,” David shares. “We want to expand and grow to accommodate the needs of our community and maintain our nimble position so that when new opportunities arise, we are ready.”

The pandemic slowed their progress, as it did for many, but David adds, “Although we are still recovering financially, we emerged stronger, more focused, more committed and united in our mission to serve.”

There are several ways to support Abilities First in their mission. Both one-time monetary donations and monthly support options are available on their website. In addition, equipment and supply needs can be purchased for the facility via their Amazon Wishlist.

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