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IGNITE! First-of-a-Kind Autism Program for Adults

by | Aug 29, 2022

First-of-its-Kind Autism Program for Adults in Charlotte Metropolitan Area


In 2012 the Autism Society of North Carolina (“ASNC”) announced the launch of IGNITE, a unique, new program that supports adults with High Functioning Autism (“HFA”) or Asperger Syndrome (“AS”) in the Charlotte Metropolitan area. The membership-based community program is the first of its kind in the nation and is made possible with founding support from the Evernham Family Racing for a Reason, a 501(c)(3) organization started by NASCAR crew chief legend Ray Evernham.

IGNITE’s mission is to enable adults with HFA or AS to enjoy a better quality of life as valued members of the community in which they live and work.

“IGNITE serves as a peer-to-peer community center that seeks to engage and encourage members to discover their passions and reach their full potential,” said Tracey Sheriff, CEO of ASNC. “The program offers social activities, skills training, and educational workshops that foster as much social, financial, educational and employment independence as possible for its members.”

As a partnership program, IGNITE staff and members work side-by-side as colleagues to manage the operations, activity planning, and programming, coordinated by a program director. Although an Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”) diagnosis encompasses individuals of varying skills, abilities, and needs, the program will evolve and adapt based on the needs of the members, most of whom will live, work, or attend college in the Lake Norman and Charlotte Metropolitan areas.

At the time the program launched, Evernham said, “Asperger Syndrome is something that has directly impacted the Evernham family and it wasn’t until my son Ray J reached adult age that we realized there isn’t a place he can go to for daily support and interaction with his peers,” currently a NASCAR analyst on ESPN television. “So we are extremely excited about the future of IGNITE and the positive influence it will have on Ray J, its members, and the community overall.”

As individuals with HFA or AS finish high school, or while in college or after, they are often for the first time without resources or guidance to navigate the next level of independent living, social opportunities, and further educational and employment options. This leaves many underemployed or unemployed and at home alone with no supports for further education, employment, or social engagement.

A diagnosis of ASD does not mean an individual’s potential for a successful career, meaningful relationships, or being a contributing member of society should be limited. Many individuals on the autism spectrum have peak skills and talents that are never truly tapped into. The IGNITE program will focus on existing strengths and interests of the members and person-centered supports in areas that require assistance.

Leading the program is IGNITE Program Director Stacy Hultgren, who has over 20 years of experience in the autism field. In addition to being the parent of a young adult on the autism spectrum, Hultgren was co-founder and served as co-director of the Connecticut Autism Spectrum Resource Center for seven years. She also helped to establish the Benhaven Learning Center, a Connecticut-based private special education school for students with HFA or AS. Hultgren has served on many policy and advisory boards, edited a nationally-distributed newsletter and authored the Connecticut Autism Spectrum Resource Guide.

To house the IGNITE program, ASNC has leased multi-functional space located at the historic Davidson Cotton Mill in Davidson, a close-knit, walkable community located on the northern edge of Mecklenburg County. The 2,400-square-foot space features a creative, loft-like environment featuring open activity space, exposed wood beams, large windows, a corner kitchen, a lounge with a brick fireplace, and individual office rooms.


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