Project Lifesaver is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this Autism Awareness Month!

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston S. Churchill

On April 9, we will be celebrating Project Lifesaver’s 20th Anniversary.

Wow.

20 years… that is almost unimaginable!

I’m still in awe of how far this program has come in the last 2 decades. In the early days, I was told I was crazy – that there was no way this would go anywhere and that I should just stop wasting my time.

Boy, am I glad I stuck to my guns, and continued on my journey, despite those naysayers. Project Lifesaver enrolled its very first client on April 9, 1999 in Virginia Beach, Virginia – a man with Alzheimer’s who had a history of elopement.

We trained, and we practiced, but nothing could put this crazy thing I had done into perspective until we received that call just a few months later. The call that would make or break this program, and surely all it took was a minute and a half on that fine day to prove the worth of Project Lifesaver.

Soon that doubt turned into “You better get your bags packed… this thing you’ve done is going to make its way all across the country!”

It didn’t take long for Project Lifesaver to spread like wildfire, and in the 20 years of our existence, we have broken boundaries I never would have dreamt of.

What started as a pilot program within one single agency, is now offered in nearly 1,600 agencies across North America… what I had once never expected to exceed city limits, has become an international organization that is commended as the gold standard!

There is no greater feeling than to know that through this program, more than 3,500 lives have been saved.

What began through failure, has soared to amazing heights. We have taken on our fair share of blows, but we have never let them keep us from carrying on our mission. Along with our desire to keep moving forward, I truly believe that is what sets us apart.

Our physical growth into new agencies and communities is not the only advancement we have made; Project Lifesaver has made strides in numerous other arenas, which has helped make the organization what it is today.

We are in a constant state of research and development to keep our program innovative and progressive – to meet the needs of our client base, and ensure we are utilizing the most effective practice to continue bringing loved ones home.

What I believe to be one of our biggest strides though, is expanding Project Lifesaver to serve any and all individuals who wander due to a cognitive impairment.

The medical field has seen so many advancements in the last 2 decades, but even back when this all began, very little was understood about Alzheimer’s – even less about wandering. At the time, all I knew was that there as a significant increase in missing Alzheimer’s patients, and something had to be done about that. Little did I know, that other conditions also acted on the same behaviors and tendencies. Such little was known about Alzheimer’s and autism was practically unheard of.

It was not until I met the parents of a young boy with autism who had asked me to consider allowing their son to be involved in our program that the light was shined on the wandering epidemic in the autism world. I owe a very special thanks to this family, for because of them, Project Lifesaver was the very first to address wandering and elopement in those on the autism spectrum.

Ironically enough, we share our anniversary with Autism Awareness Month, and this year we are doing something special to commemorate the occasion: I’m letting members of the autism community take over my blog to share their stories and help raise awareness, understanding, and acceptance.

I started Project Lifesaver to save the lives of the most vulnerable in my community, and through it, I, along with a tremendous staff, have done so much more. As the organization continued to grow, so did I – and through Project Lifesaver, I even found myself more easily navigating through my family’s own autism story.

But that is a story for another day…