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This guest Q&A is with Holly Mero-Bench, Director of Vivint Gives Back. Holly writes “As a founding member and director of Vivint Gives Back, Vivint Smart Home’s charitable foundation, I lead an ambitious corporate social responsibility program focused on helping families with children affected by autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. I view this opportunity as a true calling, not merely a job.” Do you know of someone worthy of recognition for making a difference in the community? Email us here and they may be featured in our next article!

Holly Mero-Bench, Director of Vivint Gives Back

Hi Holly – what made you first want to get involved in the autism community?

We recognized the profound impact Vivint Smart Home technology can have for families with children affected by autism. As you know, many children with autism wander. A smart home system can help monitor these children’s activities and safety. With cameras, door and window sensors and other smart devices, a Vivint smart home system helps the parents of children with autism keep them safe and secure in their homes and find greater peace of mind.

How did the idea of Vivint Gives Back come about?

Vivint Gives back came about because, simply put, helping people is core to Vivint’s DNA. Vivint’s founder and CEO, Todd Pedersen, is a true believer in giving back. Instead of creating a program that just writes checks, together, we wanted to build an organization that provides generous donations while also creating opportunities for employees to give back by donating their time, and to see the difference they make first-hand. This creates more inclusiveness within our community. To date, Vivint and its employees have donated more than $18 million and 205,000 service hours.

In 2014, we sharpened our philanthropic focus to help families with children who have autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Nevertheless, we try to help wherever we can. From spearheading the development of a state-of-the-art sensory room for children with autism in the Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, to mobilizing volunteers and shipping hundreds of thousands of pounds of goods to devastated Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, our efforts extend from our backyard in Utah to the international community.

We were so excited to hear about the sensory room opening at Vivint Smart Home Arena. I host an annual autism & sensory-friendly santa event and I know other groups such as IBCCES are doing great things to make the world a more sensory and inclusive place for everyone too. Are there any examples from your experience of groups going above and beyond in terms of sensory-friendly events/venues?

We are thrilled to be a part of the sensory room at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. For me, one of the most touching moments since the room opened was witnessing a dad bring his seven-year-old son who has autism to his first Utah Jazz game. Attending a Jazz game with his son was a lifelong dream, and the sensory room made it possible.

Sensory Room at Vivint Smart Home Arena

The Utah Jazz organization is an amazing partner in raising awareness about autism. In addition to the sensory room at the Vivint Smart Home Arena, we partner with them to host an annual Autism Awareness Night. It’s a chance to honor families affected by autism and turn awareness into action through donations.

During my journey on the autism spectrum, I’ve been positively impacted by technology and just graduated with my Doctorate in Educational Technology Leadership. How has the response been from families of children with disabilities you’ve worked with in terms of the Vivint smart homes?

Congratulations on your degree.

Vivint President Alex Dunn (left) and CEO Todd Pedersen (right) at the Utah Jazz Autism Awareness Night 2018

Smart Home technology can make a big difference in the lives of families affected by autism. An example I like to share is the King family. Breck King and her husband are the parents of four children, including their seven-year-old son, Owen, who has autism and is prone to wander. On one occasion, Owen slipped away while Breck was tending to another child. Frantic, she began a feverish search through the neighborhood for her son and called the police for support when she couldn’t immediately find him.

Owen was eventually found wearing nothing but his diaper in the dirt in a neighbor’s backyard. Without understanding Owen’s condition nor seeing Breck’s frantic, determined search for him, the concerned neighbors reported the Kings to protective services for child neglect. This added additional heartache and pain to an already unsettling situation for the Kings. Unfortunately, as you know, their story isn’t unique—it’s shared by many parents of children with special needs.

Breck later told me, “It’s been life-changing. For the first time since before Owen’s diagnosis, I can have somewhat of a normal role as a mom. I mean, I’m able to cook dinner now. Life was really scary before our Vivint smart home system. We’re so grateful.”

What’s one misconception about autism today that you would like to see debunked?

When people meet someone with autism, they all too often assume they understand that individual’s challenges and strengths simply because of the diagnosis. That is not the case. As the saying goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

Wandering has become a big topic in our autism community making securing your home more critical than ever. Has this been a topic that has come up for you and your team?

Wandering is top of mind for us. As I mentioned, a Vivint smart home system is particularly helpful at preventing children with autism from wandering unnoticed from the safety of their home.

Editor’s note: As almost half of people with autism wander from a safe environment and go missing as a result, I truly believe groups like Vivint can make a huge impact for our loved ones. There’s also a huge need for more sensory-friendly events and venues. I admire the work Holly does and I hope you will all take a moment to check out their team’s website at https://www.vivint.com/company/gives-back – Dr. Kerry Magro

Do you know of someone worthy of recognition for making a difference in the community? Email us here and they may be featured in our next article!