Hidden Wings aims to maximize the impact of its autism nonprofit this fall by collaborating with new community partners and by expanding the reach of its pioneering model.
Founders Jim and Julia Billington, M.D., are in the final stages of securing a “group inclusion” so parents and others can form their own Hidden Wings chapters. The nonprofit is working to identify its first chapter, choosing from a list of interested groups, while hoping to generate even more interest locally.
Hidden Wings, which was founded in Solvang in 2008, is also modifying its curriculum to bring pre-existing, underserved community members and groups — such as those with developmental disabilities and special needs attending adult day facilities — into its programming.
These new students from PathPoint of Santa Barbara County and elsewhere will benefit from Hidden Wings’ effective transitioning of youth with autism into productive and fulfilling adulthood based on gifts, not deficits. Fall classes will include social and vocational skills training, including woodworking, gardening, art and therapeutic drumming.
The Billingtons — both honors graduates of Harvard University with decades of combined experience in the Episcopal ministry, business and medicine — established Hidden Wings in the Santa Ynez Valley as a way to help young adults on the autistic spectrum find the right job and a good friend. They accept no government funding and rely solely on contributions and modest tuition.
Because of the post-secondary school’s success, all of its founding students have found local employment, Jim Billington said.
Bringing in young adults with special needs combines work with fun for groups that face many of the same challenges as Hidden Wings students, who are mostly lower to medium functioning youth.
Hidden Wings just completed codifying eight years of trial and error into a how-to manual and materials for potential chapters. The nonprofit also hosted informational workshops.
Each chapter will be able to use the Hidden Wings 501(c)3 status, name and logo but coordinate its own fundraising, programming, board of directors, finances, insurance coverage, etc.
Generous donations and support made the replication process possible, the Billingtons said.
Hidden Wings reached out to some of the 200-plus individuals who expressed interest in starting chapters during the Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” tour in summer 2015 and again at a recent concert in July. The nonprofit attended the concerts as special guests of drummer Mickey Hart, a longtime supporter and catalyst in Hidden Wing’s therapeutic drumming program.
“Hidden Wings is a great adventure in learning about the wonderful gifts of those with autism, and how these gifts can translate into fulfilling lives in society,” Jim Billington said. “The challenge of replicating Hidden Wings is daunting and exciting!”
According to most recent data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children are born with autism and 80 percent of those diagnosed aren’t yet adults. Most services for autistic youth disappear once they turn 21.
Fall classes at Hidden Wings began Monday and run through Dec. 16.