Each year, we ask locals to nominate Bucks County’s most influential people – men and women who are shaping the community, influencing their industries, and making a difference. Dozens of amazing stories were submitted about passionate and committed locals. At Bucks Happening, we salute all those who wake up every morning with the intention of leaving the world just a little bit better.
10 outstanding individuals have been named the Top 10 Movers & Shakers of the year, and we have the honor of sharing their stories on Bucks Happening. Meet Wycombe’s Joanne Corless, President of the AJ Foundation for Children with Autism.
Bucks Happening: Where did you attend school?
Joanne: I went to high school at Archbishop Wood and received my BS in Nursing at Villanova University
Bucks Happening: What motivates you every morning?
Joanne: I begin my day with my morning prayers and thank God for all the good things he has given me. I feel so fortunate to be healthy and have a great family. I try to focus on this especially when it’s so early and my day ahead is looking so busy. This helps me get started with my day.
Bucks Happening: What would you say is your idea of a perfect day?
Joanne: One where I am productive, enjoy a good workout, and have made a difference in someone’s day. Also a day where my children feel loved, successful and content.
Bucks Happening: Who inspires you?
Joanne: My children, but especially my son, AJ, who has autism. He has worked so hard to get where he is today. He has learned to live with his disability and be successful in our community. He is always so happy, kind and compassionate towards others.
Bucks Happening: How did you decide to go into your business/profession/service?
Joanne: I was a pediatric Oncology nurse when I got out of college. I loved my profession but God had other plans for me. When AJ was diagnosed with autism, in 1991, at the age of 2 I knew advocating for him was my first priority. I continued to work as a nurse as I researched and found better services for him. In 1997 my family started The AJ Foundation with a mission to provide quality educational services to children with autism in our area. Then in September 2000 The AJ Foundation opened a private school for children with autism called The Comprehensive Learning Center or CLC. Once CLC opened, The AJ Foundation became its fundraising arm. As president I was in charge of running the foundation and all the fundraising events plus involved in the development and expansion of CLC. So in Sept 2000, I gave up nursing to work full-time at The AJ Foundation and CLC.
Bucks Happening: Which achievement are you most proud of?
Joanne: I actually have two achievements that I feel proud of. One is being a mother of my three children. They have brought me so much joy and can’t imagine my life without them.The other is the opening of The Comprehensive Learning Center. When AJ was first diagnosed the educational services available to him were not child centered nor effective. I dreamed of having AJ and other children with autism in a place where teachers knew how to reach and teach them and help make a better life for them. Seeing that become a reality in CLC was such an incredible accomplishment for me. My family and I set out with a goal to help our son and by doing so we have helped others families living with autism. CLC opened with 3 students and is licensed by PA The Department of Education. Currently CLC serves 30 students with autism between the ages of 3 through 21 and also serves 5 adults in their new Adult Program.
Bucks Happening: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Joanne: The biggest challenge for me was accepting my son’s disability and feeling like I need to let go of all the hopes and dreams I had for his future. Fast forward 27 years and he is living out those hopes and dreams but just in a different way. We are so proud of him.
Bucks Happening: What is the biggest accomplishment that you’d like to achieve over the next 5 years?
Joanne: To find or create housing opportunities in Bucks County for my son, his friends and our students at CLC.
Bucks Happening: How do you think your friends & coworkers would describe you?
Joanne: I’d like to think they would say I live by my faith, and am a caring, fun, and dedicated person. I know they’d say I am scatterbrained at times and worry too much!
Bucks Happening: Where’s your favorite place to go in Bucks County?
Joanne: The state parks! Washington Crossing State Park, Nockamixon and Tyler State Park.
Bucks Happening: You can take a time machine back to visit yourself 10 years ago. What advice would you give?
Joanne: I would tell myself to spend more time with my children and family and spend less time worrying about 1) things I couldn’t control, 2) getting everything done and 3) trying to convince my critics.
Bucks Happening: Same question 10 years in the future.
Joanne: Don’t ever forget how hard things were when my son was first diagnosed. How scared we were to watch the autism take over his personality, how fearful we were for his future and how desperate we were to get him the right help. Remember those difficult times and continue to be an advocate or a sounding board for other families of children struggling with a disability.