Autism Pensacola’s Susan Byram stepping down from leadership role
Troy Moon, firstname.lastname@example.org Published 1:17 p.m. CT March 22, 2018 | Updated 1:51 p.m. CT March 22, 2018
Longtime Autism Pensacola leader Susan Byram to retire
Autism Pensacola President and CEO Susan Byram shows off a painting on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, that children at the Autism Pensacola camp helped create.(Photo: Troy Moonemail@example.com)Buy Photo
At the beginning of the millennium, parents and people working on behalf of those with autism didn’t even have an office.
“I was working out of my car,” said Autism Pensacola President and CEO Susan Byram. “We started with 20 families. “Now, we have 900 people on our email list. And they’re not all from families that are directly affected by autism. So if you ask me what’s changed the most, as a parent, I’d say it’s that so many more people who don’t have a direct link are now aware and being involved. … And that’s a huge blessing.”
Byram, one of the founders of Autism Pensacola and its longtime CEO and president, is retiring this year. She — along with the nonprofit’s board of directors — hasn’t set a date for retirement, and will wait until a search committee hires a new president and CEO until leaving. Even then, she plans to stay on a bit longer to help the new leader transition into the role.
Since its beginning in 2002, Autism Pensacola has expanded to offer numerous programs and services including a children’s camp, caregiver support and various safety initiatives such as Project Lifesaver, which uses transmitter bracelets to locate people who are at risk of wandering or getting lost.
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Autism Pensacola is also a support group for families affected by autism. Byram said the connections made between families are one of the things she’s most proud of.
“My favorite part of all we do is connecting with parents,” she said. “Nothing warms my heart more than hearing from parents I don’t even remember who are grateful for something I told them years ago.”
More: Local first responders train to better respond to calls for those with autism
Jessica Lapen discovered Autism Pensacola in 2007 after getting her young son, Micah, enrolled in the organization’s camp. Today, Lapen is Autism Pensacola’s program director and her son is now 16.
“As a mom of a child with autism, I am grateful to Susan for her work in the community,” Lapen said. “She is a trailblazer. She has worked so hard as an advocate for families with autism, encouraging this community to embrace people of all abilities.”
Byram has also guided Lapen into a leadership role, stressing professional development.
Autism Pensacola honors first responders with luncheon at Washington High School.
“Personally, she has been a mentor,” she said. “From the first day my son came to Kids for Camp, I’ve been sitting at her feet learning. She taught me how to be a partner with the schools in my son’s education. She has taught me to always presume competence. And to never discount a person just because of a diagnosis.”
More: Causes: Steps for Autism raises more than $50K for Autism Pensacola
Byram said she was proud of the growth of Autism Pensacola during her tenure but downplayed any singular platitudes.
“It really is the connections and the partnerships that have made this organization grow,” she said, naming people such as current Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida Executive Director Judy Burns, who developed the camping program, and former News Journal Publisher Kevin Doyle, who spearheaded a successful fundraising program for Autism Pensacola.
Autism Pensacola is funded solely through donations and grants.
Byram said she hopes to spend more time with her husband, Mike Byram, a chemical engineer who is also retiring this year. The couple has two sons, Phillip, who will get married in the fall, and David, who has autism and inspired Byram to become an advocate.
“He’s fairly independent,” she said of 28-year-old David. “But we want to continue to work on that.”
She also plans to travel with her husband.
But she promised she will not disappear into retirement.
“I’m going to continue doing work as a community volunteer,” she said, “helping folks and contributing to the community in different ways.”
For information on Autism Pensacola, go to autismpensacola.org.
Troy Moon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 850-435-8541.
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