Founder, President & CEO
First Place

An international leader in autism and native Phoenician, Denise is the founder and president/CEO of First Place® AZ (established in 2012), co-founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC, established in 1997), and founder and CEO of DRA Collective, a marketing/communications firm (established in 1986) that serves clients in a variety of fields, including real estate, economic development, healthcare, education and hospitality.

Denise has raised community awareness and more than $70 million for autism, primarily from Arizona sources. The supportive community—facilitated by SARRC, First Place AZ and dozens of partnering organizations—resulted in PBS NewsHour producing a two-part, nationally broadcast series citing Phoenix as “the most autism-friendly city in the world.”

Backed by more than 20 years of research, support from the Urban Land Institute and approximately 100 collaborators, First Place AZ is positioned for transformational impact on how society approaches housing and community development for individuals with autism and other neurodiversities. It represents a new residential prototype, as well as greater opportunities for employment, lifelong education, healthcare and recreational options that create more choices for more independent living.

The first new property, First Place–Phoenix, opened mid-2018 thanks to a robust public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit partnership with the bold vision of ensuring housing and community options for adults with autism and other neurodiversities are as bountiful as they are for everyone else.

Denise also serves as a member of the ASU Watts College Dean’s Council and the Creighton University Presidential Health Sciences Phoenix Advisory Board.