As a community bank, Citizens Union Bank digs deep into the neighborhoods and towns it serves and lifts up shining examples of good works. Then, CUB partners with those good works to further their mission.
One such organization is the Bluegrass Center for Autism (BCA) where 62 and counting kids with autism are served by 90 staff members to build life skills and prepare for meaningful work opportunities.
“Autism has a 90 percent unemployment rate which is horrifying,” says Paul Kichler, executive director of BCA. “We need to answer the call because autism isn’t going away. We’re here to break down barriers and stigma.”
BCA began in 2010 as a private school in the basement of a church with a one-to-one model between child and staff. Results were outstanding, but costs for families was very high. By 2015 BCA was in danger of not meeting payroll if its financial liquidity wasn’t increased.
“CUB stepped in when BCA was at its lowest,” Kichler says.
CUB provided a line of credit to help the non-profit gain security and get through its rough patch. Today, BCA has switched to a medical therapeutic model rather than a school, and therefore a family’s health insurance covers most of the cost of the participation of a child with autism. BCA is now financially self-sufficient and thriving.
“Paul has a passion that you don’t often see,” says Genny Wenta, Vice President at CUB and a member of the board of directors at BCA. “He knows all the kids names and he shows his passion when he tells the story of BCA.”
Wenta says she and Kichler met at a Focus Louisville event two years ago, and Wenta decided to approach CUB senior executives about partnering with BCA. CUB executives were all for it.
“There were some risks, but what made us get involved was Paul, the mission and their strategic plan,” Wenta says. “CUB is very philanthropic and when we went to our executives they said ‘yes’.”
The help they needed
Kichler, a former special education teacher and principal in Chicago who joined BCA as its leader in 2015, says he felt great relief.
“CUB gave us a line of credit in case there was a shortfall on payroll,” says Kichler. “Just knowing it was there helped me sleep at night.”
BCA is now moving its depository accounts over to CUB, and CUB has embraced BCA with its “Give A Day” program during which CUB employees volunteer at non-profits around the region every year on Columbus Day.
“Last year 20 employees repaired our picnic table and also bought us a second one,” Kichler says. “They cleaned up our garden, planted flowers and did landscaping for us.”
BCA has two campuses – the Kosair Charities East campus in Jeffersontown serves children ages 2 – 11, and the upper campus at Mid-City Mall on Bardstown Road serves adolescents and young adults ages 12 – 21. The Sandy Metts family of Metts Realty donated the space in the mall for BCA’s use.
BCA classrooms have five to seven children each. Some children with autism spend 3 – 4 years at BCA and then join mainstream schools. Other adolescents spend their entire educational years at BCA. The program is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and also provides training and support for parents.
One in 59 children in America is born with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Finding ways to help these kids lead meaningful and productive lives is paramount.
Kichler says merchants at Mid-City Mall are fantastic in the way they interact with the older kids with autism.
“All the businesses there are wonderful. It’s like the whole mall is our campus,” he says. “Instead of pretending like I’m a cashier and teaching someone to make change, we actually go to the ValuMarket and practice the life skill of purchasing. If we drop a jar of jelly and it breaks, what do we do? The kids learn that we go find a store associate to help rather than having a meltdown.”
Kichler says CUB has been an invaluable partner for BCA’s success.
“One of the best things about having Genny and CUB is that she is the best connector with other community leaders,” Kichler says. “Her enthusiasm makes things work.”