Yesterday I was at the gym lifting weights and listening to Squawk Box. My ears perked up as I heard the host talking about employment of persons with disabilities.
The panel members were beginning a discussion on the need for employment as the tidal wave of individuals aging out of school is rapidly growing. I stopped exercising and went over to the TV to listen more closely. What I heard encouraged me.
The Ireland family saw their son getting older and knew there wasn’t “anything” after age 21. Therefore, in 2007 the Ireland family and a group of parents, concerned about the lack of employment for children with autism who were entering adulthood, joined together to find a solution and thus was the genesis of Extraordinary Ventures.
Extraordinary Ventures (EV), a nonprofit in Chapel Hill, NC built its businesses around in-demand services that require skills many with autism spectrum disorders already excel. One such venture is a laundry service, ideal for those who like organization and repetition. There is also a successful candle-making business for those who enjoy cooking and crafts. Check out the EV Gifts.
The success of the businesses in Chapel Hill isn’t because EV charges less than similar businesses, but that they are jobs suited to the strengths of many of the individuals. EV’s goal is to provide jobs to a growing cohort of local adults on the spectrum while creating a model that can be used elsewhere.
What else is extraordinary?
EV employs entrepreneurial recent college graduates to run the organization, assess community needs, and then “start-up” and manage these business ventures designed around the skills of the individual employees. It’s a win win! The graduates have an opportunity to learn while managing.
The Ireland family and Extraordinary Ventures reminds me of Dr. Gertrude A. Barber. She had a desire to fill the need for education and vocational training for children and adults with developmental disabilities. We grew from a one room workshop in the 1950’s to today, 500+ plus adults gainfully employed in the community.
It takes training and understanding the skill set of individuals with development disabilities, playing to those strengths and then mitigating some of their individual challenges. However, Extraordinary Ventures has proven that if you adjust the business to utilize individual strengths it really works. Dr. Barber would be so proud!