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Game programming camp for autistic adults a hit

Event was first step in GFU effort to bring nonprofit tech company nonPareil Institute to Oregon


The nonPareil Institute (nP), a nonprofit technology company that trains and employs adults with autism to work in the gaming industry, has proved to be such a success in a few years that 38 cities across the country have requested it set up shop in their area.

The Plano, Texas-based company has chosen to expand its presence to three other cities, but just one new location will be outside of the Lone Star state.

Thanks to marketing professor Justine Haigh and some motivated parents, nP will partner with the Christian university to open up a satellite program in Newberg to service adults with autism in the greater area.

“The three (cities) that we’re in are because they were persistent about saying, ‘We want to be first,’ and “What do we have to do to get you here?” nP co-founder Dan Selec said. “Justine said, ‘No choice, we’re going to do this.’ It’s people like Justine at George Fox that are making it happen.”by: SETH GORDON - Empowering others - Dan Selec (center), founder of the nonPareil Institute, tutors Walt Reyes (left) and Nathan Brink (right) March 26 during a two-day computer-programming camp at George Fox University for adults diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The nonprofit software company, which trains and employs adults with autism, is working with GFU to open a satellite operation in Oregon over the next six months.

To kick start the effort, Haigh organized a two-day game programming camp for 12 young adults from the region March 25-26 on the GFU campus.

The camp was an experiment, in a sense, in that it took 12 students, starting from scratch, and gave them a tutorial on the software the company uses to build some of its games in two short days.

“This was the biggest group, the first time and it went fantastic,” Selec said.

NonPareil, meaning “no equal,” is in such high demand with parents and autistic adults because after high school, many of the resources and support for them dry up.

The normal procedure at nP is such that graduates of the training program stay on to train others or work to create games the company sells and much of the training is done in groups of two students.

When it comes to job training or even autism-friendly work environments, options are limited and nP is unique in offering both training and employment within the company, essentially killing the proverbial two birds with one stone.

“We were faced with the question, what is our son going to do after high school?” Lake Oswego parent Koko Reyes said. “Then we heard about this and looked at the website, but it was like, ‘I don’t believe it. It’s too good to be true.’”

Hearing success stories, like that of student trainers Aaron Winston and Taylor Gerik, who assisted Selec with training at the camp, means that local parents’ hopes about the program are well-founded and not just pipe dreams.

Winston graduated high school in 2010, tried community college, but couldn’t identify what he wanted to do. Now he is gainfully employed, living independently and in many ways says he’s a different person.

“It’s given me a lot more confidence,” Winston said. “I didn’t drive before I started at nonPareil and after a couple of years I learned to drive. It’s definitely given me a boost to what I can do.”

The reaction from camp participants was equally enthusiastic, if not more.

“It’s taking something I love doing, which is playing video games, and then giving me the chance to get involved in the creation of them using professional-grade software,” camper Max Brebner said of the camp. “It’s also in this environment, which is a sort of we’re-here-to-help-you environment.”

“This was so just fun,” Brebner added. “That’s what I want to get across.”

The company has a partnership with Southern Methodist University, which has provided the company with free office space and counseling for students and employees. Haigh is already reaching out to various stakeholders at George Fox and in the region to create similar relationships.

Over the next six months, the plan is to establish a budget and raise the initial capital needed to open an office, either in Newberg or on another GFU campus in the metro area.

The next step will be a still unscheduled town hall meeting, where Haigh and nP officials will invite parents and other community stakeholders to hear more about the company, answer questions and engage potential supporters and donors.

“I’m a huge believer that autistics have more to offer this world than they are currently doing,” Haigh said. “They are just misunderstood and overlooked. I really want to change that. It’s a step in the right direction. We’re hoping to change the world’s view on autism.”




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  • 26 Aug 2014

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  • 27 Aug 2014

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