By: Amanda Forrester
Editor: Katie Williams
The Living and Learning Enrichment Center in Northville, Michigan, works with teens and young adults that have Autism Spectrum Disorder. They offer a number of programs to help their clients become self-sufficient and encourage inclusion between the community and people living with special needs.
Pamela Travis is the Vice President and Chief Program Officer of the Living and Learning Enrichment Center. She has worked with the organization for several years, after her daughter began attending programs.
AF: What made you get involved with the Living and Learning Enrichment Center?
Travis: I was a teacher and I also have a special education degree. My own daughter was diagnosed with disabilities and I took time off to become an advocate. I found the center through her. This was the first time she went to therapy and wasn’t scared. It felt like home. I did volunteering and moved into a full time job. I’ve been there for five and a half years. It’s been amazing watching it grow and unfold.
The center has grown a lot since their beginning in a small rented house in 2015. They are currently in the Don Massey Mansion in Northville, MI, with plans to expand further. Every space is utilized to offer programs tailored to the interests of the clients.
AF: How did the center end up in the Don Massey Mansion?
Travis: We started in a small space in a historical home in Northville, then moved into the store that we currently have downtown. When the mansion became available, we put in a bid. Once we had the property and started renovating we took the mayor to visit and see the changes we were making and planning and brought the students to visit our new location to get comfortable.
Travis stresses the importance of making the community more inclusive. There are plenty of opportunities for the community, from taking an art class to enjoying a bonfire in one of their fire pits.
AF: What does inclusion mean to you?
Travis: You’re including everyone and no one is excluded. Everyone is celebrated for who they are. That is what our program is all about. We have neurotypical people working as well.
Travis says that she is already seeing more acceptance of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community.
AF: Has there been a shift to being more inclusive towards people with ASD and if so in what ways?
Travis: Absolutely, I even see it in my personal life. The stares with my daughter are much fewer and we feel more comfortable. That’s just in the 10 years of her life. Now I don’t ever feel nervous going out. The community is open. We do work skills through our vocational program and no one has said no. We have clients working in Northville, Plymouth, and Livonia.
The stereotypes people have about those with ASD can be far from the truth. The belief that people with ASD can have problems interacting with others isn’t as black and white as some make it seem.
AF: What is one thing you wish you could tell everyone about people with ASD?
Travis: I feel like they are the most amazing people in the world. If someone gives them the chance, they have amazing attention to detail. They have so much loyalty and love to give. No matter what kind of day I’m having, they give you hugs and they’re full of joy. It makes me slow down and see the beauty of life.
For Travis this isn’t just a job. The people who both work and volunteer as well as the clients have become a part of her family.
AF: What aspect of your job do you find most rewarding?
Travis: The biggest thing is when they master a skill. When you see that joy that they have done something new. They’re moving toward independence and we show them we believe in them. Seeing them get their first job and first paycheck. The joy when they thought they could never have a job and they get paid for the first time.