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Office Doors: Dr. Aaron Blocher-Rubin
A lot can happen in a decade.
In 2006 the Arizona Autism United got its start and since then it has transitioned from a small support group for families affected by autism into a visible, respected organization with 500 employees and a statewide vision under the direction of its CEO, Dr. Aaron Blocher-Rubin.
While the organization was in its early stages, Blocher-Rubin, was in the early stages of his career as a leader too.
“When this opportunity came along to start this organization it was a risk,” he said. “It was building it from the ground up, but it was exactly what I wanted to do, and since I didn’t have experience running a company it was a good way to get started because it was kind of low risk in the beginning because if it didn’t work out nobody would notice, but if it does it could be great.”
Fortunately, the organization’s fate was the latter.
“At the very beginning, (my role) was pretty much everything,” he said. “I did the accounting, the staff training, and I’d go do some services myself. I was doing assessments for the first several years but that’s changed obviously. Now we have multiple departments, a management team, I work with a board.”
While the growth of the organization is undeniable, it retains some of its small-time charm, with Blocher-Rubin admitting that he’s still the unofficial IT manager — a journey he says is ending soon.
With this growth has come an expansion in services available for children and youth with autism, their families, the community and even schools.
Blocher-Rubin acknowledges the shift, his changing role and the how it affects the community’s view of the organization.
“When we were starting it was small. We were scraping by with the few resources we had — donated computers, recycled office supplies and stuff like that and doing the best you can and being grateful for what you have,” Blocher-Rubin said. “And now we’re trying to be responsible but we have to recognize that we have a different profile now and different expectations so we have to constantly push ourselves to be more professional, higher quality, more effective, more accountable, all these things, which is great.”
He credits their “family first approach” and positive company culture to the organization’s success — which is demonstrated by many families’ dedication to Arizona Autism United.
“We’ve had families that have been with us since we opened our doors,” he said. “My brother is one of them.”
Blocher-Rubin’s brother is what initially led him to this career path.
“When I went to college he was just beginning his early intervention treatment and so I ended up taking some classes at UCLA in a program there that was one of the best in the world for behavioral intervention,” he said.
“I originally just wanted to learn because of my brother but I ended up really liking working with kids and so I pursued that and developed a clinical background initially then when I moved back to Arizona I started working with another autism organization, Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center or SAARC and that was my first experience working with a nonprofit.”
His combination of a clinical and nonprofit background helped him transition into his role as CEO, while allowing him to wear the multiple hats he needed to help build the foundation of a burgeoning nonprofit.
Now, 11 years later, his role has shifted more toward assessing the organization’s structure, relationships and future, but his fervor for the cause hasn’t changed.
“I’m never bored,” he said. “I never lose interest or lose passion and I’m constantly learning.”