What We Do
The ACRES Project (Adults Creating Residential & Employment Solutions) is a a 501(c)3 non-profit located in the heart of Central Pennsylvania.
Our unique team consists of people with autism, educators, parents, and community members working together to help adults with autism build a foundation for a productive, independent life. By fostering social, vocational, and self-advocacy skills, ACRES' innovative programs help individuals build confidence, develop practical life skills, increase social capacity, and optimize their potential.
Everybody has a talent. The ACRES Project is here to turn the passions and skills of adults with autism into meaningful opportunities for individuals to live, thrive, and achieve their dreams.
Why We're Here
Autism is a lifelong diagnosis. Although commonly viewed as a childhood disorder, kids with autism soon become teenagers, adults, and seniors with autism. It's estimated that 50,000 Americans with autism will enter adulthood each decade. These adults are one of the most overlooked and underserved populations in America.
Although school districts provide many services for children with an autism spectrum disorder, these services disappear at the age of 21, when individuals are no longer eligible for the vital supports which they and their families have relied on since childhood. The few programs that do exist for adults with autism often have long waiting lists, prerequisites, or are unable to provide the specific help that an individual needs. With no support and nowhere to turn, adults with autism are at greatly increased risk of isolation, loneliness, unemployment, and overall lack of purpose.
Although 61% of adults with autism want to hold a job, 85% are unemployed, even with a college degree. This is the lowest employment rate of any disability group. More than half of young adults on the autism spectrum report that they have not met with a friend over the past year. And although 78% of adults with autism wish to live independently, 90% rely on a parent or guardian or lack independent living options. The ACRES Project is working to create those options.
Who We Are
Established in July 2014, The ACRES Project, Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to foster independence, self-advocacy, social opportunities, and work/life skills for adults with autism.The project was spearheaded by Bella Bregar, a retired special education teacher with a passion for helping individuals with autism thrive. Bella has helped countless students through high school over her 38 years as a teacher, and shares the hopes and concerns that many parents express for the future of their child with autism. Noticing that many of her former students were struggling to graduate college, make friends, or find jobs after graduation, Bregar, along with Cathy Prosek, founded the ACRES Project to fill in the gap in services and provide adults with autism with the structure and support they need to achieve their goals.
In early 2017, The ACRES Project acquired a lease on a rural, two-acre property at 2400 Bernel Road, less than five miles away from Penn State's University Park campus. The spacious house accommodates a wide variety of programs, including life skills classes, entrepreneurial programs, and social groups. These programs are run by caring, qualified staff and many are available at low to no cost to participants to ensure accessibility.
The ACRES Project believes that autism is not a "one-size-fits-all" diagnosis, so there are no "one-size-fits-all" solutions. We respect that each person is an individual with unique strengths, challenges, and goals for the future. At ACRES, we don't fit people into programs -- we shape our programs around people. Most importantly, our programs and activities are inspired by the feedback of participants to ensure that ACRES is a place designed by adults with autism, for adults with autism.
What We Do
The ACRES Project works to connect people with autism to themselves, to each other, and to their community. We currently have 14 programs serving over 90 individuals of all ages and abilities, and are always creating new programs to fill unmet needs. By partnering with local businesses, our vocational training program helps job seekers on the autism spectrum obtain paid, real-world work experience while educating employers about the valuable skills that employees with autism can bring. Our Day Program helps adults with autism learn about themselves and each other while learning valuable life skills, while Creative Sundays foster creativity and independence. Because we believe strongly in community involvement, our Sensory Friendly Centre County Initiative is working to make the Centre Region a safer place for those with autism/sensory processing disorder.
The ACRES Project also provides frequent social opportunities and individualized support designed especially for women, as well as for those with Aspergers or "high functioning" autism. Although these groups may "look normal" and are frequently overlooked by autism programs, many people with "high functioning" autism struggle silently throughout daily life. The ACRES Project provides a safe harbor for these individuals to meet one another, discuss shared challenges/interests, and foster lifelong friendships.
The ACRES Project has grown immensely since its founding, and our growth shows no signs of stopping. Our future plans include establishing housing solutions, an animal therapy program, and a community greenhouse to provide adults with vocational training in aquaponics, a sustainable method of agriculture that combines raising fish and plants in one operation. Together with a growing circle of community members sharing a wide variety of professional skills, the ACRES Project is steadily moving toward its goal of creating a vibrant, uplifting community where all the pieces fit.