Islands of Brilliance, Sherman Phoenix team up for creative workshop for those on the autism spectrum

NOW: Islands of Brilliance, Sherman Phoenix team up for creative workshop for those on the autism spectrum

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- When you look at Cristian Arias, it's not tough to tell he's a Wisconsin sports fan. His favorite Packers player? Aaron Rodgers. His favorite Bucks player? You guessed it; Giannis Antetokounmpo. He went to cheer on the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field for his 16th birthday just a few weeks ago.

Decked out in a Packers hat and t-shirt, Cristian was at Sherman Phoenix Monday morning the Islands of Brilliance workshop created to help teach children and young adults on the autism spectrum creative skills.

"I'm drawing the Brewers playing the Chicago Cubs," said Cristian, as he participated in one of the morning's activities.

When asked if the Brewers were beating the Cubs in the drawing, he smiled and answered a simple "Yes."

"It's very special for me," said Missy Arias, Cristian's mom, when asked about the program. "I'm glad and I'm happy that they have this for special needs children. There should be more programs like this."

Islands of Brilliance is a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that works with children and young adults on the spectrum. IOB uses art and design as an intervention tool to teach students valuable technical skills while also helping them learn and practice social, emotional and communication skills essential for navigating everyday life and successful employment. The program averages about 20 students a week, but hopes to grow and continue to share their services with more people in the community.

"It's really cool to be expanding throughout Milwaukee," said Natalie Derr, a creative technologist with IOB. "Creativity is very special to every single person. Creativity is an outlet to heal and create empathy between human beings."

Dr. Stacia Thompson is the executive director of Sherman Phoenix Foundation. A mother herself of a child with autism, she recognized the importance of having programs available for those on the spectrum and their families, and was happy to open the doors of Sherman Phoenix for Monday's workshop.

"For me, it's important that we make sure we reach every element, every child who might be interested in STEAM or STEM," Thompson said. "As a parent of a special needs child, I have been blessed in the fact that we've had some great resources and great activities and great organizations to work with over the years. Now we have another one with Islands of Brilliance."

Thompson says she hopes Monday's workshop is the first of many held at Sherman Phoenix. As for Derr, she hopes word will continue to spread about IOB and the programs the organization offers the community.

"I really hope that this reaches people and that we can get more people into our programming; to be more connected, to build more community and to see how creativity can really bond us all together," Derr said. "The people we serve right now, it's a really small, tight knit community where everyone feels comfortable and able to share. We're just lucky no matter what capacity we're at."

Milwaukee is one of ten Wisconsin cities where IOB is hosting in-person sessions. Other cities include Madison, Waukesha, West Bend, Kenosha, Wisconsin Dells, Sheboygan, Racine, Green Bay and Superior.

Anyone interested in learning more about Islands of Brilliance and the programs offered can visit the organization's website here.

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