Seeing the Pointe

April 2018 View more

Finding a job that aligns your passions and talents is deeply fulfilling. Carrie Provenzale found just that when she became the executive director of Naperville’s Turning Pointe Autism Foundation in 2016.

Provenzale entered college as a special education major. After a few classes, though, she realized teaching wasn’t a good fit—and pivoted to pursue a career in nonprofit development. After working in the field for 20 years, Provenzale now uses both skills to run a school for children who are on the autism spectrum.

“I still pinch myself that I get to lead a special needs school and do it in a way I am good at,” she says. “Our teachers are complete rock stars; that’s the role they are meant to play. I’m meant to be more strategic.”

Paying it Forward

Turning Pointe Autism Foundation was founded in 2007 by Kim and Randy Wolf, whose son Jack was diagnosed with autism at a young age. Despite being severely impacted, Jack was able to make tremendous progress once proper interventions were put into place. His success inspired the Wolfs to start a school to meet the special needs of others like Jack.

Provenzale loves helping students find success. “One of the things I‘m most proud of is that our kids are happy to come to school. Regardless of how students are impacted by autism, the fact that they are all impacted normalizes them. They connect with peers in a way they hadn’t been able to before. Parents often tell me this is the first time their child has made a friend.”

Turning Pointe’s CN Day School is an Illinois State Board of Education–approved therapeutic school serving junior high, high school and transition-age kids. “Students in the day school are more severely impacted with autism. Our supports and specialists work wonders to help them,” Provenzale says. “Students move from a life of frustration and isolation to a life of joy and connection.”

Five years ago, Turning Pointe added a Career College to serve post-secondary students at the other end of the spectrum. “Students spend a year with us working on softer skills and training with our corporate partners,” Provenzale explains. Students gain experience at the onsite Walgreens and “Made to Inspire” boutique, as well as at the “Made to Inspire” Cafe located inside Lexus of Naperville. Upon graduation, students are guaranteed an interview with one of the corporate partners. “Our students have not only been hired by our corporate sponsors but by several software companies as well. We help them grow into whatever their interests are and find employment,” Provenzale says.

Supporting students

In April—nationally recognized as Autism Awareness Month—Provenzale invites people to attend an open house held every Thursday from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. People can support Turning Pointe by purchasing spiritwear from the onsite boutique or online at Local car dealers will also be donating to Turning Pointe for every test drive taken.

In October the school hosts a pumpkin race fundraiser at Rotary Hill. “Our students design kits that turn ordinary pumpkins into racing pumpkins,” Provenzale says. “A lot of our kids and families can’t participate in a 5k, golf outing or a black tie event, so we’ve created a fun, inclusive event where the community can come out and support us.”

Two years into her position, Provenzale continues to be inspired by the Turning Pointe community. “On my hardest, most stressful days, I think about what we ask our students to do to fit in with society and how they continually rise to the occasion. Some days may be harder than others, but they never stop trying. Our students are the hardest working people I’ve ever seen,” she says.