Dr. Woodson’s ambitious new treatment center aims to uplift and inspire community.
What does it take to bring a life-long dream to fruition? This month we take a break from Dr. Woodson’s usual social/political think pieces to shine some light on him personally, at a defining point in his career. He’s counting down the days till his new Pediatric Center for Autism opens its doors to provide comprehensive, first-rate care for children with autism and other learning/developmental challenges.
Wealth Wednesday is a weekly broadcast where local Real Estate maven Darlene Meekins features an accomplished community member with experience and information to share with her audience. Our own Dr. Woodson recently sat down for an inspiring interview about believing in yourself, and staying committed to your vision no matter what.
(this interview has been edited for brevity and clarity)
I work with autistic children, particularly early development, early intervention. It’s been extremely satisfying, being a consultant and private contractor all these years. But I’ve always known in my mind that I wanted to create something special: a safe, supportive environment where children with autism/developmental delays/etc. are treated holistically, with educational enrichment as well as social, behavioral and life-skills training.
My dream was to teach and share my most effective therapies with the next generation of children, parents and clinicians. On top of that, I had another dream — to build this new center with an all-Black team of professionals, from start to finish. Black contractors, architects, designers, signage…everything! Of course I was going to do a lot of work myself but anytime I needed help, I wanted to support a local Black-owned business. We were gonna do this together!
So my first step was finding Mrs. Meekins, a realtor with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, an organization of minority real estate professionals who specialize in serving non-white clientele. Now mind you, before meeting with her, I had done some casual looking around, and one place, even, jumped out at me at first.
But I wanted to take my time, you know, so I happened to get my tarot cards read. And they looked at my cards and said I need to be somewhere in the Northwest and couldn’t think what that meant. So Mrs. Meekins showed me three, four places. When we got to this spot on Ogontz Avenue, we stopped looking, it was so perfect. And it’s in the Northwest!
I’m right next to three other businesses. Across from a church with a restaurant right next door to me. There’s a community vibe here, and a lot of foot traffic. I’m in a good position to connect with families who may need my services: one out of every 54 children have an autism diagnosis. That’s true across all races – despite some biased testing (since debunked).
Of course while I’m building my business with Black talent and enterprise, I’m also proud to be founding a diverse, inclusive facility that serves a critical need in the area. There’s a real dearth of local programs for autistic and developmentally delayed children, especially all-day services so important for working parents. So it just felt like the stars had lined up perfectly for me.
I spent two years going through the process of acquiring this commercial space – it’s been a long journey! Right now we’ve got our signage up, we’re waiting on the last final paperwork before we can open the doors for new clients. Meanwhile, I’m there most days getting things ready.
For anyone who’s thinking of starting their own business, I’ve got a word of advice for you. The most important thing is to stand firm in your decision. Don’t let anything daunt you. Anything worthwhile requires a lot of sacrifice and commitment. Once you put your mind on it, don’t give up until you’ve finished what you set out to do.
Another thing – and I cannot stress this enough – is to over-estimate how much capital you think you will need by at least 20%. This way when you go over budget it won’t be that bad. I needed to find another $25k on top of the $30k I had projected. But I was committed to my dream, and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like money get in my way.
And I’m still not open! But I’m just about there. I’m lucky to be in a good position while I wait, I’m still practicing as a private contractor. Once I open the center, though, I will instantly scale up: there’ll be staff and a host of new programs and services we’ll be able to provide, including full day treatment for 13 children.
And that’s really where I see things taking off. I’ve done a lot of different business projections, and even the most conservative models are very promising. I implore anyone starting out that, look at the finances, look at your vision, do all the homework ahead of time and above all, do your best. And keep good records!
Never cut corners on your vision. Pay good people to do good work for you. Express gratitude and invite participation. You’d be surprised at what people will contribute if asked – I got toys, books, furniture, art for the walls… The best things in life really do take a village.
Final words, let me tell you something about autism spectrum disorders: these children are not damaged, they just experience the world a different way. We can work with this! If you’re a parent of a 2 – 4 year old child, and you have any concerns about their mental or behavioral development, please reach out to me for a free, confidential consult.
There’s help available for all income levels; many programs are covered by insurance and government assistance. Early intervention is key! The Pediatric Center for Autism will identify your child’s specific learning needs and create a plan to help them grow socially, verbally and intellectually. Peace.
Follow the links in this article for deeper dives. Read Dr. Woodson’s last column here.
The Pediatric Center for Autism
77306-7308 Ogontz Avenue, 19138
Founder Dr. Lorenzo Woodson (Ph.D., RBT, CC, LBS) is a licensed behavior analyst specializing in clients on the autism spectrum. He lives in Germantown with his wife of 24 years, and lectures nationally for social causes. Since 2018, he’s been a monthly columnist for The Local paper. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org