The president and founder of the Derrick B. Hart Jr. Autism Center, Audrey R. Matthews was inspired to open an autism center after her experiences raising her son, who has autism. Knowing very little about autism, she struggled at first to figure out how to help her son and how to find organizations where she could learn more and get help. Her hope for the Derrick B. Hart Jr. Autism Center is that she can provide resources to make the lives of families with autistic children easier and give them a place to turn to so they don’t have to struggle the way she did. Finding that her son responded well to sensory learning on a tablet, one of the goals of the center is to provide autistic adults and children with iPads and/or tablets to help them with speaking and learning, when other methods are inaccessible.
First exposed to the world of nonprofits through her work with Party 4 Peace, where she did fundraising work for Will Smith and Charlie Mack, Ms. Matthews realized that she could use her knowledge of nonprofits to make a difference in her community for black children with special needs. Other events she has coordinated include city events with the mayor and city council and a bike run to benefit autism charities, which had a turnout of over 3,000 people. She has also done work to bring together rival gang members who have children with special needs, and been a volunteer and advocate with Autism Speaks, a volunteer with Community on the Rise, a member of the local zoning board, and the president of the Mu Gamma Sigma alumnae chapter of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
Prior to her work in the nonprofit sector, Ms. Matthews earned a degree in hotel, restaurant and institution management from Edward W. Bok Technical High School and an associate’s degree from a local community college. She then began her career in finance, working as an income auditor, night auditor and accounts payable supervisor working with hotels. In 2007, she joined Beneficial Bank, the oldest bank in Philadelphia, as the first Black accounts payable supervisor. For excellence in her career, Ms. Matthews has previously been nominated for Outstanding Business Woman of the Year.