“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead
In the late 1990s, a small group of parents of children with autism in Ocean County, New Jersey including Donna Cirillo and Tom Caffrey, formed POAC – Parents of Autistic Children, a non-profit organization with the intent of improving educational programs for children with autism. They began to seek out the best methods available and were introduced to Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior (VB) by experts in the field including Dr. Vincent J. Carbone and Dr. Mark L. Sundberg. VB proved to be the missing piece as well as the catalyst that united teachers and parents in a common mission which led to great change in public school programs for children with autism.
This energized group of parents scheduled teacher training workshops throughout the 2001-2002 school year, so that teachers could receive training in this evidence-based program. This success led the group to launch another teacher training initiative called Project Pipeline. The mission of Project Pipeline was to provide funding for teachers to attend targeted training in ABA leading to board certification as behavior analysts. Grants from Project Pipeline enabled professionals to participate in this rigorous and expensive program, which required more than 100 hours of training, at a cost of more than $3,500 per teacher.
Teachers who received Project Pipeline grants, shared their knowledge by conducting evening trainings for their colleagues and parents throughout the state of New Jersey. In turn, these newly trained special education professionals responded enthusiastically, and collaborated with each other through an informal organization called the Verbal Behavior Network. Teachers in the Verbal Behavior Network developed an eight-part training series and presented more than 120 free trainings throughout the 2002-2003 school year. POAC’s Project Pipeline continued to grow over the next few years, benefitting thousands of teachers and other professionals.
While special education teachers worked to train their colleagues as well as parents in other districts, POAC formed a strategic partnership with Brick Township School District, and assisted them in establishing pilot classrooms. This Brick/POAC pilot program gained national attention, and in 2003, hundreds of people from around the world visited these pilot classrooms as well as others born from this model. Parents and teachers in other parts of the country, who had heard of the program, began to form their own POAC chapters in the hope of replicating this success. POAC chapters were formed in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, and overseas in Ireland.
Between 1999 and 2005, every penny raised by the organization went to fund teacher training, and all work for POAC and Project Pipeline was done on a volunteer basis. It is a testament to the dedication of this core group of parents that through their tireless efforts, POAC and Project Pipeline were able to fund training for hundreds of teachers and other professionals working directly with children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
In 2003, founding members of POAC, Tom Caffrey and Donna Cirillo, turned their passion into a vocation and formed VBN Training.