Creating Opportunities For The Neurodiverse

When he was just 5 years-old, Doctors told Anthony Ianni's parents that he wouldn't be successful in life because of his Autism. Hearing this from a medical professional would have a devastating effect on parents and be extremely discouraging for children.

Coach Ianni at the non-profit camp, Kids On The Go, near Detroit, Michigan.

Thankfully, times are changing and there is an increasing awareness of the issue that is going hand-in-hand with an economic shift to help special needs and intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) individuals secure a full-time position in the workforce is quickly spreading nationwide.

And the benefits of an inclusive work environment don't just improve the state of life of the individual employed but has proven to enlighten and motivate those around them. For instance, former Special Needs Educator Tiffany Exter, one of the many trailblazers to this important movement, noticed a void in meaningful job opportunities and careers for those with special needs. She felt moved to open Pizzability/Brewability in Denver Colorado where she employs IDD individuals as well as others without special needs. Her understanding of the situation had her make sure that her restaurant Pizzability would include a sensory corner for employees or guests who may want to use it between bites. Although not the goal, teaching respect and patience is an ancillary benefit that comes from an inclusive workplace such as this one.

A Special Place for a Slice and a Beer

Click here to learn more about Pizzability/Brewability

An author, Daryl Reed once said: "Compassion without action is just observation". Surely Tiffany is one such individual whose actions speak loudly. Another is the owner of Rising Tide Car Wash, John D'eri who has another success story of compassion. John's youngest son Andrew is autistic and when he noticed that Andrew's future would be dim unless he did something, Rising Tide Car Wash was born. This wonderful family-owned business gives young adults with autism a chance to thrive with a combination of what John's eldest son Tom explains as "process-driven tasks" and "detail orientation".

Florida Car Wash Employs Autistic Adults

Click here to learn more about Rising Tide Car Wash

Michael Coyne, a young man with ADHD and Autism, featured in a CBS news article couldn't find a job after submitting multiple applications and decided to open his own "beacon of hope" coffee shop, the Red, White and Brew Coffee in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, that employs special needs individuals. By doing so, he made sure that his future was secure along with others like him. Parents are overjoyed to see their children work and have fulfilling lives instead of the less dignified and productive alternatives like sending them to adult daycare facilities or having them stay home.

Michael with his mother sitting in their cafe.

One would think job training or even a 4-year college degree would assist IDD individuals to at least get their foot in the workforce door. That is not the case. Even when an individual on the spectrum graduates from college their chance of employment is low and that's if there are opportunities in or near their location that caters to their abilities.

Byran Dai, who has a brother on the spectrum, along with highschool friend Raul Mahinda founded a startup: Divergent, after coming to the same realization as Tiffany Exter. Divergent, as reported in the New York Times 'Using Technology to Close the Autism Job Gap', has become a lead Artificial Intelligence startup to hire neurodiverse and neurotypical candidates. By working with colleges to provide internships and hiring outright, Divergent has hired 75 people with IDD to date, not letting the hard work and dedication to gaining an education go to waste. Divergent offers positions in which IDD individuals "can focus on detail-oriented, complex, repetitive kinds of work". To further accommodate their employees, Divergent also provides a sensory break room for staff that may help with settling thoughts and de-stressing from feelings that might overwhelm, which a typical workspace often presents.

Divergent's owners Byran and Raul.

All of these examples are positive steps in providing special needs, neurodiverse and neurotypical individuals a job and a chance for a productive life. Hopefully, many more companies will open their doors and offer employment opportunities to this unique community of adults. However, it takes a unique company with a heart open to these employee prospects. Mr. Campbell, Divergent's first hire makes a good point about the types of businesses that will have the best chance to succeed with IDD employees, "I want an employer to see me as a person. Don't hire because you want to look better for your investors."

Rescue, Transform, Share: How an Ohio Soup Shack Is Saving Lives

"It really does take a village to help people," says Sandra Lettie, a volunteer with La Soupe in Cincinnati, Ohio. La Soupe is helping to build and activate just such a "village" of compassionate people from the local area around the goal of producing food from discarded produce and providing it to families in need.

According to La Soupe's CEO, Suzy DeYoung, the organization's central mission is to "rescue, transform, and share." First, volunteers with La Soupe visit grocery stores and farms to pick up produce that was going to be discarded and "rescue" it for use in the soups that the team creates. That produce is then "transformed" into healthy, delicious food by the chefs at La Soupe. Finally, the food is "shared" with those in the local community who need it.

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Sweepstakes Winner Gets Unforgettable NASCAR Experience!

Stacy Comilang from Preston, CT., likes to think of herself as a "need for speed" kind of girl. She is a fan of NASCAR and had been to a few races while growing up in California. Even though she has never driven in a car much faster than the speed limit, or been in a race car, she would love to do both. Little did she know that when she casually entered a sweepstakes on the Coke website this past spring, that both of these dreams would soon come true!

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Man Goes on Cross-Country Hugging Tour To Spread Love

Hugging is considered to be a rather intimate form of affection across the US. Everyone hugs, but rarely do we ever hug strangers. Arie Moyal is willing to do just that. He is the founder and creator of the Hug Train, a national tour of free hugs to promote mental health awareness. Arie travels across the country giving hugs to strangers who are willing to give him an embrace.

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Dan's Coffee Runs Bring Warmth To Chemo Patients and Staff

Coffee and a smile are sometimes the best medicine. When Dan Dewey's father was being treated for cancer, Dan found himself following a routine in a situation which needed a little perking up.

Thus began what has become known as "Dan's Coffee Run". Every Thursday morning, Dan does a special coffee run for the staff and patients at the Michigan Cancer Institute in Bloomfield Hills, bringing Starbucks Coffee and a lot of smiles to the patients and providers at the cancer treatment center.

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This Organization Feeds Their Entire Community

If you are a kid and your bed is a lumpy, old couch or a cold, hard floor and you leave home for school without a regular breakfast, you will not excel in your classes. This daily struggle is shockingly common in many areas of the country and it sets many children on a downward spiral at an early age that is difficult to recover from. This is where Meals By Grace is making a difference.

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Anonymous Authors of Love Letters Uplift The Lonely

While it is exciting to see the bold type of a newly arrived email from an old friend or the pulsing dots of a long awaited text, there is still something special about the arrival of a hand written, stamped envelope in your home mailbox.

For those who are facing personal difficulties, adjusting to new circumstances, or just feeling isolated, the physical experience of handling a letter, opening the sealed side of the envelope, and sliding out a beautiful card brings the thrill and anticipation of contact with another person, something they may been missing for long time. Fulfilling this need is at the heart of an inspiring organization called "The World Needs More Love letters".

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A Father, A Son, And A Hockey Fan’s Dream Come True!

Coca-Cola, Shaw's Supermarkets, and the Boston Bruins have teamed up to make one lucky Bruins fan's dream come true. After purchasing a Coke from Shaw's in the New England area, contestants were encouraged to enter for a chance to win a "Player for a Day Experience" with the Boston Bruins.

The lucky winner's name is Mark Karolkiewicz. Mark has been a Bruins fan his whole life and even though he had the opportunity to be a Bruins Player for a Day, he selflessly gave the prize to his son Eric Karolkiewicz, also a die-hard Bruins fan!

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Dancing Away From Illness And Onto The Stage

The hall lights dim…..a hush comes over the audience … the command "places everyone" is given… there is a palpable stillness in the air as the first notes of the opening piece float out of the speakers and hover above the stage…. the curtain rises with a whir … the lights come up… its time …

These are the moments a performer lives for. The hours of solitary sweat and toil practicing their craft in sparse, small rooms, are the dues required for the joy of putting their skill and craft out there for an audience hungering for something special and moving.

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