The Lawrence and Augusta Hager Educational Foundation presented a $400,000 check to Puzzle Pieces on Tuesday night. The funds, which mark the largest gift the Foundation has ever made — will support a new location for the Owen Autism Center.
The presentation came during Puzzle Pieces’ 10-Year Celebration event.
“The Hager Educational Foundation’s gift will help Puzzle Pieces address a compelling need,” Executive Director Keith Sanders said. “This reflects the confidence we have in their board of directors, administration, staff and mission. This gift will enable this wonderful organization to expand and continue its exceptional services in the days and years to come.”
The Hager Educational Foundation’s mission is to help the community improve opportunities for children with a focus for those who are disadvantaged. Their investment in the Owen Autism Center will help hundreds of local children impacted by autism.
The Owen Autism Center is the region’s only targeted autism programming, according to Puzzle Pieces. This Center serves children with autism from 18 months to 21 years old. Programming is individualized, targeting independence, social and life skills.
The Owen Autism Center helps families who have just received an autism diagnosis begin early intervention in order for their child to become school ready. Research-based strategies are used to prepare the children for the transition to school and then employment and/or higher education.
The funding from the Hager Educational Foundation will be used to relocate the Owen Autism Center, which is currently housed within Puzzle Pieces’ New Hartford Road campus. The new location will be located just across the street in the former Rite Aid building, providing 13,000 square feet of additional programming space.
“When we moved to our building in 2019, I thought the 27,000 square feet would be plenty of space for our clients,” said Puzzle Pieces Executive Director Amanda Owen. “We have grown exponentially in 3 years and are at capacity for services. With our waitlist growing every day, we had to find a solution.”
While expanding to a second location was in the strategic plan for 2023 to relieve Puzzle Pieces’ waitlist, the Hager Educational Foundation grant accelerates their ability to get the program in place faster and with greater technology and support.
“This gift means we can open the Owen Autism Center with the technology, safety measures and materials to make a seamless transition,” Owen said. “We will not have to rely on fundraising, which can take a long time, to give our clients with autism the highest quality of service that they deserve. Not only that, but we can immediately provide services to clients on the waiting list once we have our new location open and operational. ”
There are currently 36 clients receiving services from the Owen Autism Center, but that number is projected to triple in the next 3 years.
“According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with autism,” Owen said. “Extrapolating that data to the estimated 27,000 school-aged children in Daviess County means that it can be estimated that there are more than 600 children with autism locally.
According to Puzzle Pieces, the Owen Autism Center is the only local after-school and summer programming for children with autism.
The Owen Autism Center is projected to move to its new location in summer 2023.