The past two weeks have certainly been exciting at Firefly Autism. After learning that the organization had been selected to be the site for a visit, tour, and press conference with a presidential cabinet appointee, the wheels were in motion at high speed.
The call came from someone with the Department of Education, and we were told that Betsy DeVos---yes, THAT Betsy DeVos---would be at Firefly on Weds., Sept. 13. A few hours after receiving the news, it began to sink in. We had been chosen above all other treatment facilities for developmental disabilities in the entire country. But why? Why Firefly?
We’re still not entirely sure of all the factors involved in the selection process, but we know that our work is well-known throughout the country, at least within the autism community. And we know that we’ve been more aggressive with our promotional, branding, and public relations efforts to help even more people become familiar with the organization. Firefly is widely respected as a leader in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, on both a national and global level.
Was that it? Well, there was that lawsuit filed by the parents of a Firefly student, the one that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court earlier this year, which issued a ruling in favor of the parents and Firefly student. That certainly gave Firefly a few minutes in the national spotlight.
Whatever the reason, Secretary DeVos was coming to Firefly. Two weeks isn’t a lot of prep time for something of this magnitude, but we made it work. And on the morning of September 13, our campus was buzzing with reporters from local and national news outlets, US Secret Service agents, key members of the DeVos staff, and a handful of hearty protesters just a few footsteps off the Firefly property line. Ms. DeVos is not without controversy, and her appointment by the President was met with mixed public emotions, which has resulted in protesters appearing at virtually every location she visits.
We were told she would arrive at approximately 8:00 am, or close to that. She earned a solid “A” in punctuality with her car pulling into the Firefly circle drive at exactly 8:00 am. On the nose.
Firefly Executive Director, Jesse Ogas, greeted her at the main entrance, and escorted her into the building. After a brief round of introductions to Firefly staff, board members, and a few parents, she offered a few remarks to the crowd, after which she was given a tour of the campus followed by a series of meetings with Firefly leadership, board members, and other key staff.
The last segment of her visit was a press conference, where she would answer questions from reporters with the various news outlets represented at the event. And three hours after arriving at Firefly, she was off to her next destination at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
“We are so honored to have this opportunity, and we engaged a great dialogue with the Secretary, one that I felt was very promising,” said Ogas. “We helped her get a clearer picture of the needs of organizations like Firefly, from funding to facilities, and I am hopeful that what she took away with her will play a role in future decisions that affect children with developmental disabilities.”