Honoree Spotlight: Beth Thompson, MSSA, LSW - Exceptional Service Award
Posted on 09/29/21 in Supporting the Mission by Milestones
Milestones Program Director Beth Thompson has over a decade of experience working directly with young adults on the spectrum, guiding families and individuals toward greater independence. In her 10 years with Milestones, Beth has lent her passion for social work to continuously fill service gaps in our local community, assisting in the creation and management of the organization’s core services and initiatives, including the free autism Helpdesk, online Resource Center, individual and family consultations, and Milestones’ professional training.
Beth is especially proud of her role in the launch of the Milestones Diversity Taskforce, working to ensure LGBTQ, racial, gender and neurodiversity issues are addressed through the organization’s work.
Beth's tireless dedication to those with disabilities has not only shaped Milestones' vital programs into what they are today, but has also been a driving force in shaping the landscape of autism resources and supports throughout Northeast Ohio.
It is our privilege to present Beth with the Exception Service Award at this year’s Annual Benefit, taking place October 14th, at Driftwood Caterers at Landerhaven (virtual tickets still available).
How did you first get involved with Milestones?
I first heard about Milestones in 2008 while working at LEAP as a high school/high tech program coordinator. In this role, I was doing outreach to identify kids who might be eligible for my LEAP high tech program - kids who were interested in technology and had potential to attend college. While doing research, I learned about Milestones’ workshops. I had never worked with anyone who had autism, so I went to some of their workshops to educate myself. It wasn’t long before I had my first client with autism, Hannah Shiffman.
One of my jobs at LEAP was to find summer placements for clients like Hannah. It was really hard to place my autistic students. I reached out to Milestones because I thought they would be open to it, and they accepted Hannah Shiffman as their summer intern. I immediately saw that Milestones walked their talk. So when an opportunity later arose to support Milestones’ transition into adulthood services, I took it.
Milestones Executive Director Ilana Hoffer Skoff saw me job coaching Hannah when her job coach couldn't, which led Ilana to invite me to present at Milestones’ teacher training about supports I used for Hannah. Milestones then had a new position open up, so I went to meet with Ilana and Mia about a potential consultant role and they said you should come work full-time for us.
What were your first years like at Milestones?
When I joined Milestones, you could count the number of staff on one hand. My position was new, so nobody was doing this work, and it gave me the chance to develop new things and find answers when there were none. I had major imposter syndrome.
Those first few years consisted of figuring out how we could contribute to a huge need in the community. We had limited resources, but a ton of heart and passion. This is how the Helpdesk, Resource Center, Parent Empowerment Network and Milestones Consortium for Autism Professionals were created.
We continuously evolved to meet needs and did what it took to change with the times. For example, when I started at Milestones, there were no free autism workshops available in the community, so we provided them. Once other organizations started doing it, we shifted our attention to other gaps, which led to the creation of services such as our agency and professionals customized training and the start of our diversity taskforce
Looking back on your first ten years at Milestones, what are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of starting the Milestones Diversity Taskforce to ensure our conference and content reflect LGBTQ, racial, gender and neurodiversity needs and issues. I am also especially honored to be in a position that allows me to watch many clients grow into leaders within the disability community.
What do you enjoy most about working at Milestones?
Getting to be the voice for self-advocates, ensuring they have a voice at the table. I’ve been dubbed the “honorary autistic” by Nera Birch, aka “the autism whisperer”. I also feel fortunate to work with my wonderful co-workers and to watch how much of an impact we can have with the variety of things we do. Ilana and Mia have put together a stellar team with such dedication and talents. I am constantly amazed at what our agency can do, especially being our size.
What do you wish for the future of Milestones? For the autism community?
My wish is that Milestones’ staff and board continue our efforts to mirror the image of the actual autism community. I also hope to see our clients become more diverse. Our organization should look as diverse as the community we should be serving.
For the community, I hope to see a clear move toward appreciation, beyond acceptance and awareness. I want the talents, perspectives and ideas of autistic people to be valued. It is so important that we let their voices be heard.
What does being a social worker mean to you?
I was an IEP kid when I was young. Like many of our clients, I took an employment interest assessment when I was an IEP student and it said I should become a social worker or florist, because I liked helping things grow.
There is a great Jane Addams quote that speaks to what social work is to me, it’s “action is indeed the sole medium of expression for ethics.” I have always believed that equality and equity are essential for a just world, and social work has presented me with the opportunity to take action.
Social work is also about valuing and believing in the potential of others. When I was young, I had significant hearing loss and a speech impediment that impacted my reading, hearing and socialization. During this time, my mom taught me how to be an advocate for myself. She got me the services I needed, she pushed me to do more and she found ways to keep me learning, even in the summers. Despite my speech and hearing issues as a child, I’m now a public speaker.
By example, my mom showed me what can happen when you have an adult in your corner who believes in you. I grew up wanting to be just like mom, to be that adult for someone else.
For more information about the 2021 Annual Benefit, please click here. All contributions to this event support the Milestones free autism Helpdesk, a service that connects individuals and families to the trusted resources they need.