Neil Massey: A Decade at the Autism Treatment Center
The further Neil Massey progressed in his education, the more aware he became of the fact that he wanted to do work that would help others. He slowly recognized that any other kind of work would not fulfill him. Originally from the hill country south of Austin, he majored in political science at Texas State University and moved straight to Dallas following his graduation.
“I always saw myself working in politics or government, so that’s what I did. After I graduated college, I worked for state representatives and congressmen,” Massey shared. But these roles were ultimately unfulfilling for him. He couldn’t see the direct impact of the work he was doing each day. He couldn’t tell if his efforts were actually affecting vulnerable individuals in a positive way. Massey smiled, and said, “I went to the next best thing – nonprofit work.”
Massey began work for the Housing Crisis Center here in Dallas. He served as Development Director. He helped provide housing for the families served by the organization as well as individuals of the homeless population. “The work consisted mostly of finding homes for single mothers or veterans who were dealing with chemical dependency or mental illness,” Massey said. “We worked to get them into stabilized housing.”
After three years at the Housing Crisis Center, he decided to apply for a new job at the Autism Treatment Center. Though he enjoyed serving through the housing crisis center, he felt drawn specifically to helping individuals with special needs. In 2008, Massey began work at the ATC as the Special Events Coordinator. He planned the yearly fundraiser “Roundup for Autism,” an event for donors to enjoy live music and dancing as well as a silent auction and casino benefitting the autism treatment center. He also ran different year-round programs. In 2012, he was promoted to Development Director.
“As Development Director, I wrote grants, oversaw community outreach, and worked with corporations and foundations in partnership,” Massey said. In 2017, he was promoted to Deputy Director of the Autism Treatment Center. He now does mostly internal work, and he oversees all of the programs at the school.
Massey does not have a specific background in working with the special needs population; rather, he has an innate desire to serve any human being who is at a disadvantage. Teachers and students around the school have meaningful relationships with Massey. He takes time to invest in each person – both beneficiaries as well as coworkers. “He’s just the best,” one of the teachers said.
Though his primary workspace at the ATC is an office, Massey is definitively woven into the fabric of daily life at ATC. He has a unique relationship with each student, both the children and the adults. He speaks nostalgically of the last 10 years at the ATC as he has witnessed kids grow into adults. “I remember the kids who were ten years old when I got here—now they’re 20! It’s special to see what they have accomplished,” Massey shared.
Autism Treatment Center staff develops a service plan for each child that comes to the organization. The teachers evaluate the students’ strengths, interests, and weaknesses in order to develop a concrete path for each child. “Whenever someone joins the ATC, there’s the understanding that they may not go to college, get married – the normal progression – but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a good quality of life. The goals become a little different. Once you work with the individual and find out what their interests are, what they’re capable of doing...there’s hope in that,” Massey said.
The Autism Treatment Center is especially unique because they provide curriculum for both kids and adults. They also have a group homes program, as well as a partnership with schools in Dallas county. Some individuals experience enriching curriculum within the ATC facility during the day; others have the opportunity to live in a nearby home with a few other ATC students and a 24/7 caretaker. Higher-functioning students have the ability to take a bus to a nearby school while still remaining a part of the ATC community.
Though the individuals enrolled are benefitting from the ATC, the good doesn’t stop there. ATC sends its students into the community to serve. They have partnerships with Meals on Wheels, Goodwill, and Dog and Kitty. “Both the adults and the children attending ATC log approximately 19,000 hours of volunteer work in the community ever year,” Massey shared, “and that means dozens of individuals going out every day of the week.”
Massey’s work at the ATC gives him a new perspective on life’s difficulties. “The days that I think are bad days really aren’t bad days. Setbacks or temporary roadblocks are just a part of life. Working with individuals who are just learning how to communicate or self-cope puts things into perspective. I am always reminded of why I shouldn’t be worried about the little things that inconvenience me,” Massey reflected.
If you’d like to volunteer at the ATC, you can come in to a class to read to the students or lead arts and crafts. You can also get a group together to put on an event like a dance party. You can reach out to their volunteer coordinator through their website.
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Story and photos by Hunter Lacey.