Autism center buys Bothell American Legion Hall
October 6, 2010 · Updated 11:36 AM
Last year, Alyssa Burnett graduated from Woodinville High School. She was 21. Autistic, according to her mother Barbara Burnett, Alyssa Burnett doesn't speak and has significant developmental and medical issues.
"So the question becomes, what's next?" Barbara Burnett said, adding the public school system just has nothing left to offer her daughter and others like her.
"She's not going to be able to hold a job... She pretty much just sits at home and that's not acceptable," Burnett said.
There is little doubt that Alyssa Burnett will be among the 50 to 100 persons with autism and related disabilities who will take advantage of the day care and life-long learning programs to be offered in what was until just recently Bothell American Legion Post 127.
Barbara Burnett said the ultimate goal is to help answer, for parents and families, that question of what comes next for autistic and disabled children.
"The need is there... It's just such a great cause," said Inga Paige, the executive director of Tessera, the non-profit organization Barbara Burnett and husband Charles started in 2004 to both honor and help their daughter.
A "tessera" is, incidentally, a tile used in a mosaic. Alone, it's nothing but a plain and simple cube, says the Tessera Web site. But the site notes when combined with other tesserae, the lone tiles become a part of a much larger, more attractive image. Obviously, the name reflects what is now Tessera's mission not to leave local autistic children and their families on their own.
Both Paige and Barbara Burnett said Tessera began as the Northwest Academy for Exceptional Children. Paige said when Alyssa Burnett was younger, her parents found they had little choice but to send her out of state to a residential school in Kansas. Their original goal was to launch a local residential school, a Northwest branch of the Kansas organization.
According to Paige, the Kansas school had to pull out of the project for financial reasons.
"We decided we would focus on life-long learning," Burnett said.
The name change to Tessera came with the change in the mission, which according to Paige also includes a single residential home for autistic persons. There are hopes for more homes, though for now Paige said the group's focus is on transforming the Bothell Legion Hall into the envisioned learning center, as well as the administrative home for Tessera.
Initially, Paige said organizers hoped to have the center open by January.
"That's probably an aggressive goal," Paige continued, adding the plan now is to have the center open for business by next spring.
To operate the center, Tessera is partnering with Bridge of Promise, an organization currently running a day center and learning program in Bellevue's Highland Community Center. The group has exactly one room at its disposal for a few days a week.
In Bothell, Paige said the program should launch with services 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, offering life skills, along with arts and crafts and music activities. Eventually, Paige hopes to hold movie nights and similar events. She wants Tessera to offer help for parents and bring in a vocational expert. Buses eventually might bring students to classes from all over the area.
Paige said Tessera's plans for the Legion Hall include plenty of fixing up of the interior. The building will have to be made accessible for the handicapped and that work will include adding an elevator. Paige said the hall's large kitchen will remain in place, used not only to prepare meals but to help Tessera's clients learn cooking skills.
Paige added that the first floor of the American Legion building will remain home to the Not Just Antiques store and boutique. The Bothell American Legion did not return a phone call asking for comment. However, a recorded message at the hall number announced the Bothell Legion eventually will move to new quarters in Woodinville.
Burnett and Paige said Tessera has tried to stay under the radar a bit in the past because, up until now, they didn't really have a facility. Paige said she wants to change the group's visibility, especially promoting Tessera's biggest fundraiser, an annual golf outing and auction.
For now, Burnett seemed happy Tessera will have a new home and will be able to better help persons such as her daughter.
"They deserve a life, its that simple," she said.