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Your Dollars @ Work: Exceptional Minds First Training Class Graduates!

This Your Dollars @ Work post is about Exceptional Minds, a non-profit vocational center & animation studio for young adults on the autism spectrum whose mission is to provide young adults on the Autism Spectrum with customized instruction and hands on experience to earn a living in the fields of multi-media, computer animation and post production.

A 2012 Family Services Community Grant from Autism Speaks of $25,000 helped Exceptional Minds fulfill their goal of proving to the world - the film industry in particular - that young adults with autism could perform highly skilled visual effects and animal work and earn a living. The grant funded their job development program and has allowed them to launch the careers of the first group of EM graduates!

On June 8, 2014, over 100 guests gathered to celebrate the very first Exceptional Minds graduating class. Eight young adults received Adobe Certification and Exceptional Minds Diplomas. A great example of the success of the program is Kevin Titcher's story. Kevin was hired by Stargate Studios and began working the day after graduation. Prior to starting in Exceptional Minds' job development program, Kevin was stocking shelves at a local supermarket and was told he would never be able to move up the ranks because of his autism. Today, he is working in the editorial department at Stargate, finally able to pursue the career of his dreams. Of the other seven students, five of the program's other graduates began full-time work in their in-house studio the week after graduation. Watch a video from the graduation below!

Earlier this year, while completing their third-year course requirements, these students performed visual effects cleanup on shots for Annapurna Pictures on the award winning film American Hustle. In May, they completed visual effects work for Fox Studios on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Currently, they are working on two feature films for Paramount and a film for RKO. They have received high praise from EM's clients for performing work at “the highest standard of quality.”

“In my 25 years, I’ve seen a lot of talent come and go, and the one thing I look for is passion. If you can identify someone's passion and we can connect them with that passion, that's an electric combination. In this case, you've identified the human spirit and every one of the students here has that."
- Sam Nicholson, CEO of Stargate Studios at the Extraordinary Minds graduation

"The funds provided by Autism Speaks have helped us fulfill our mission—to enable our graduates to earn a living commensurate with their strengths and interests. We are thrilled with the progress our students have made and are very grateful to Autism Speaks for helping them fulfill their dreams."
- Yudi Bennett, Director of Operations, Exceptional Minds

The second component of the Community Grant was the creation of a replication manual to help other organizations learn how to implement this successful program. The 72-page manual, Digital Arts Vocational Training & Job Development Program For Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum, is dedicated to all young adults with ASD in the hope that it will inspire them to discover their talents, pursue their dreams, and live fulfilling, purposeful lives.

Download the manual here so you can learn how to replicate this successful program at a place near you!

Your Dollars @ Work is a blog series highlighting the important work of past recipients of Autism Speaks grants to give you a glimpse into how your donations are changing lives of so many in the autism community! Check out previous entries here.