"My ASD kid LOVES this stuff. More hands-on auto-mechanics than he would ever get in public school, and in a group setting where he doesn't stand out as 'different'."
TACT was founded in 2016 by parents very much like many of you reading this -- parents inspired by both the strengths and challenges unique to their child.
In 2009, Claire and Danny were blessed with a beautiful son. The first few years his progress was “on track,” however around the age of three they began noticing his speech was behind, he was toe walking and few other “differences.” They visited a few doctors and he started speech and occupational therapy to work on his sensory developments. Fast forward to 2015: Their son is in the first grade and growing into a remarkable young man. He's becoming an extremely creative and innovative thinker, however, there are clearly some continued difficulties. After years of working with doctors and teachers he is placed on the Autism Spectrum. He’s not alone. In 2014 the CDC reported that 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 168 girls) are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum.
As parents, Danny and Claire started looking into programs to build upon their son’s strengths to help him build confidence and social and emotional awareness. They couldn’t find anything outside of the doctor’s office. So, they began developing T.A.C.T.
Kerry McCowen is a Texas native with a rural background who moved to Colorado in 1976 where he has been employed in the energy business for 43 years. Mr. McCowen originally served as a volunteer for TACT, teaching in the automotive section of the organization. His grandson is on the spectrum and resides with Mr. McCowen and his wife Deb. Having a full time child with special needs has driven him to perform much research on the disorder in order to understand and help his grandson improve. He was introduced to Danny and Claire at a TACT meeting early on where he was able to interact with Temple Grandin and volunteered to help immediately. Mr. McCowen holds two Bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Management from the University of Phoenix as well as serving in and holding the title of District Engineer in the energy business. He has been a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers for 35 years. His focus is on helping all children on the spectrum to learn skills that will serve them for a lifetime. He is a father of two and Grandfather to his buddy Kyle.
Michelle Rice is originally from Macksburg, Iowa and now calls Colorado home after 30 years yet continues to hold those midwest ties close to her heart. When Michelle and her husband Stan were introduced to the wisdom behind T.A.C.T., it was an indescribable moment; like minded thinkers who align fully with her family’s core beliefs! As a mother of two teenage boys on the spectrum, she is strongly focused on advocacy, independence, employability, and continuous progression on their individual spectrums. Michelle has been working in Special Education for about nine years, with most of that time spent at the secondary level. Previous to working in the schools, Michelle was employed as a certified EDDA in a pediatric dental practice serving children and teens presenting with various needs. Continuing education is a passion that has helped her learn how to support varying characteristics of the Autism Spectrum. Michelle has taken the Registered Behavior Technician course, attends conferences yearly such as PEP, Peak 2 Peak, and Courage to Risk which offer strategies for executive functioning, behavioral approaches, and scaffolding curriculum. Both of Michelle’s sons participate in sports programs through Special Olympics Colorado and the NSCD. Colton is a Junior and enjoys basketball, soccer, and flag football through the Special Olympics Unified Schools program and has lettered in all three sports. Mason is a Freshman and enjoys weekly rock climbing and kayaking through the NSCD. She believes that T.A.C.T. is a posture-changing doorway into an inclusive world.
Logan Killpack grew up in Madison, WI. He and his wife, Megan, met at Colorado State University in 2002 and they have called Colorado home ever since. Logan, Megan, and their 2 dogs have lived in Denver since 2005. Logan has worked in finance since 2008. Currently, he is a financial planner with Centennial State Financial, he dedicates himself to improving his client’s financial positions and helping them establish achievable goals. Logan finds assisting people protect their families and seeing them realize their dreams of retirement to be extremely rewarding and fulfilling. Logan is passionate about TACT and their mission to better the lives of the community through support and education.
Abbey O'Loughlin joins the T.A.C.T. Board after a lengthy tenure at the Temple Grandin School in Boulder, Colorado. Abbey’s education and passions have taken her all over the country. At Michigan State University, Abbey obtained a B.A. in Special Education then went on to Ohio State to earn her M.A. in Special Education. As Director of Socio-Academic Planning, Ms. O’Loughlin developed, deployed, and documented TGS’ curriculum and educational model which fosters a growth mindset focused on the whole student. She is a passionate educator, leader, and advocate committed to making a difference in our community. In Abbey’s spare time, hobbies include pottery, hiking, music, camping, and road trips.
Our TACT Team
Becky Mershon, Chief Program Officer
Becky is a Colorado native, mother of three, Registered Nurse, Certified Autism Specialist and is currently working on her Masters in Behavior Analysis. She is a founding board member and TACT’s Chief Program Officer. Becky’s oldest son is on the spectrum and like many parents of children with special needs she has stopped at nothing to help him thrive. Although there were many therapies that certainly helped her son, nothing like TACT existed so she helped start it. She is the “go-to” person at TACT for everything from scheduling to grant writing to admissions and beyond. Becky loves that TACT’s program instills a true sense of pride, accomplishment and practical skills in our children while focusing on what is possible for them and not on their struggles. She works kindly and patiently with every family and coordinates all TACT programs, family services and development.
Bob Oldfield, Automotive Services Instructor
Bob is known as “the guy” in the automotive world. He worked for 40 years as a professional mechanic at John Elway Chevrolet. He is a master mechanic and a world class chef! He has worked on just about every car imaginable and can fix anything. He became interested in TACT while looking for ways to support this grandson who has autism.
Richard Gruber, Carpentry Instructor
Rich turned his attention to teaching following a nearly four decade career as a professional carpenter, cabinet and furniture maker and licensed residential remodel and design contractor. Rich taught the Building Trades Program at Ridgeview Academy and helped develop the “Apprenticeship Readiness Program” at Warren Tech. As the lead carpentry instructor at TACT, he shows great enthusiasm in showcasing this field of work to his current and future students.
Claire Combs, Chief Financial Officer
Claire grew up in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, NC. Her family is one of educators, artists and engineers. This inspired to her get her Bachelor’s degree in business and art at Wheaton College in Illinois. After college, she worked in Nashville doing graphic design and marketing with one of the pioneers of the wellness movement and online health coaching. When Dylan was born she became a full time mother and crafter. She has been a fan of fiber arts for most of her life and enjoys a variety of crafts including knitting, quilting, crocheting and sewing. She is the mother of two amazing children, Dylan and Ellie.
Amanda Therrien, Special Education Coordinator
A Nebraska native, Amanda moved to Denver in 2012 where she became involved in the autism community through her love of art, legos, and early childhood education. On a trip to Peru to better understand how autism is addressed globally, she realized the importance of learning a trade or skill at a young age to guarantee future independence and sustainability and the lack of services like this in the US. Around the time she graduated from University of Colorado Denver with her Masters in Education and Human Development, she discovered TACT and couldn’t wait to volunteer. Her experiences, along with the mission and the values of TACT led Amanda to join our TACT Team in July 2017 as a part time Special Education Teacher. In March 2018, she joined the team full time as the Special Education Coordinator and Skills USA Chapter Leader. She continues to advocate locally for the autism community serving on the Commission for People with Disabilities under the Office of Human Rights and Community Partnerships for the City of Denver. (Pictured right, Amanda is assisting in a photography project with a class of TACT STEAM campers!)
Danny Combs, Chief Executive Officer
Danny has a bit of unique background. He is a fourth-generation wood worker and mechanical tinkerer who grew up building and making things with his family. However, he decided to follow his own path and went to Nashville to play music. He was extremely fortunate that he had a vibrant career and he worked with various platinum album selling Grammy and Oscar winning recording artists. After 10 years in the music industry he began to cultivate his passion for education. His heart for teaching lead him to leave the music industry to start teaching private lessons and run the music program at an inner-city high school in Nashville, TN. He was granted several awards in teaching, including a Grammy Enterprise Award for the program he designed in the Nashville schools, became a published educational author, arranger and songwriter. Danny has a Master’s Degree in Education, is a Board Certified Cognitive Specialist, a Certified Autism Specialist and a classic car junkie. He has two incredible children, Dylan and Ellie. When his son Dylan was diagnosed with Autism he pulled from his family legacy and put together TACT.
TACT would not be what it is today without the multitude of exceptional volunteers and teachers that have passed through our doors. Thank you so much for all you do for our students day in and day out. Together we are building something incredible for these students and our community!
"My ongoing support for TACT is based on a number of factors including my belief that hands-on, project-based work is invaluable to all children, but inherently needed for those on the autism spectrum to succeed in the work force. It is estimated that 90% of adults with ASD are under or unemployed. What many people don’t realize is that unemployment rates for those with ASD are higher than the unemployment rate for ALL disabled Americans in general, which sits at only 10.5% compared to 90% for those with ASD. Early access to high-quality vocational training can be life changing for those with ASD."
Read more of Dr. Grandin's letter below:
See more TACT stories on our Media Page.
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