Seventh Small Business Town Hall Held in St. Louis

On Wednesday evening, Autism Speaks held its 7th Small Business Town Hall meeting, hosted by Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Due to the tremendous need for appropriate employment opportunities for adults with autism, and benefitting from close collaboration with the University’s School of Medicine – particularly with Dr. John Constantino and his team in Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Social Developmental Lab – the Town Hall meeting was a great success. More than 110 attendees packed the room, including adults with autism and their families, small business owners, employment service providers, government agencies, and academics.

The evening featured a panel of three speakers who shared stories of their success as the owners of small businesses that employ individuals with autism. Members of the audience engaged in a dynamic Q&A discussion with the panelists, asking questions about how their businesses got started, what their operating costs are, and what obstacles they have faced along the way. Other small businesses and employment service providers also shared their products and information with the Town Hall participants.

The three small businesses that were featured on the panel at this Town Hall meeting were as follows:

• Extraordinary Ventures (http://www.extraordinaryventures.org/), Chapel Hill, NC

• Autonomy Works (http://www.autonomy-works.com/), Downers Grove, IL

• Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn (http://poppinjoes.com/), Louisburg, KA and Brunswick, GA

All of the presentations were inspirational. Joe Steffy’s (Down Syndrome-Autism Spectrum Disorder) presentation was especially stirring and was met by a rousing applause. Using a Dynavox, pictures and a video to tell his story, the audience learned about a young boy whose future had been predicted by the professionals to be at best, unpromising. That young boy, Joe himself, is now the sole proprietor of Poppin Joe’s Kettle Korn, a self-sustaining micro-enterprise that employs others with and without disabilities as well. At the end of the presentation, Joe provided all of the attendees delicious samples of Kettle Korn.

Among the organizations represented at the event, a local nonprofit called Destination Desserts (http://destinationdesserts.org/) participated in the discussion and also provided delicious refreshments for the audience. A social venture, Destination Desserts employs both expert baking industry artisans and individuals who have struggled with a life-changing head injury or cognitive learning issue, including autism. 100% of their proceeds go to support the nationally recognized Center for Head Injury Services.

“We were very excited to host a Town Hall in St. Louis surrounding Adult Initiatives,” said Angie Dettmers, Executive Director of St. Louis’s Autism Speaks Chapter. “One of the most common concerns our families are facing today is what is next for their loved ones, once they have moved on from the school setting. A big thank you to the Ireland Family, to our panelists and to Dr. John Constantino and Washington University for hosting this very rewarding event.”

Autism Speaks looks forward to hosting two subsequent Small Business Town Halls this Fall, including one at the University of Miami, FL on Monday, November 11! Please click here to find out if we are visiting a city near you.

These Small Business Town Halls are part of an Autism Speaks initiative, “Advancing the Role and Impact of Small Businesses in Employing Adults with Autism,” funded by a generous grant from the Ireland Family Foundation.