COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - In the Pikes Peak region, about 18,000 people have some form of disability. With autism rates on the rise, parents are looking for ways to help their children and young adults prepare for the future.
Goodwill's "Possibilities" program uses a fake town for real change.
"My son has a disability," said Terry Ikehara, mom of TJ Ikehara.
Ikehara watches her son perform cooking skills. But this isn't TJ's kitchen. Instead, it's a model of what an independent life looks like. Ikehara says this Goodwill program is helping prepare her son for the future.
Possibilities is a first-of-its-kind program. It uses a town -- with TJ as its mayor -- and features a gym, a general store, and even a credit union to educate, not intimidate.
"You can learn how to keep the house, how to go to a bank if you get paid," said the Director of Community Programs for Discover Goodwill, Tamara French.
"It's a hard transition through the age of 21. The school districts are responsible to take care of these kids and so when they enter the adult world they may not be able to live with their families anymore," she said.
French says they have about 200 clients -- with both physical and mental disabilities -- enrolled at any given time. And that number could increase. According to Autism Speaks, new estimates show a 15-percent rise in prevalence nationally. That's 1 in every 59 children.
For Ikehara and her son, Possibilities means a life with less worry and greater independence.
You can support the Possibilities program by coming to their upcoming farmer's market on September 6. Participants will be selling art, handmade goodies, and garden produce. All the proceeds will be used to fund the program.