My name is Melissa with Asbury Automotive Group, and I wanted to update you on our progress with Asbury’s new café concept, Café Blends: Blending Autism Into the Workplace®. In this blog post, I will be speaking from a business perspective of employing individuals with autism, as part of the Autism Speaks series for National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
In December 2011, one of our dealerships in the Atlanta area, Nalley Lexus-Roswell, opened our first Café Blends. The purpose of the café is two-fold: to provide opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum who have had difficulties finding employment, and to create awareness of the prevalence of autism in adults. We partnered with Nobis Works, a local non-profit that provides job training and employment for people with disabilities, and it has proven to be a tremendous success. A second café opened in March at Nalley Lexus-Galleria in Smyrna, GA, and one will open in November at Nalley Toyota of Roswell. We hope to expand to other states.
The response so far from our employees and customers has been overwhelming. We set out thinking we were helping to change the lives of these young adults, and in turn, they have changed all of our lives. It has been a truly amazing experience to watch the personalities of these young adults blossom and to hear from their parents how much they have changed at home since starting work at the café.
I believe this experience has impacted our operations in a very positive way. When our baristas were first “learning the ropes,” some customers needed to be educated on the new concept. But the minute the customers were informed, they instantly lit up and praised both the baristas and the dealership. They would also share their own story of having a friend or family member affected by autism or another disability.
Not only do customers appreciate the fact that we are providing job opportunities for individuals with autism, the residual effect has been that we are referred more customers because of that fact. Coworkers, family and friends of customers who have experienced our cafés sometimes choose us over our competitors simply because of Café Blends.
An extra-special perk is hearing that other businesses are exploring the idea of hiring individuals with disabilities because of their experience at our cafés. Talk about paying it forward! Although that was part of the overall mission, it feels great to actually hear stories of people realizing what great job candidates individuals with autism are.
Two organizations are to credit for helping us through this entire process: Autism Speaks and Nobis Works. Autism Speaks has been an incredible resource in providing the education and materials to the team as we created the program at our corporate office, and then to our employees as our cafés open. The wealth of information and materials they have provided to us has really allowed us to ensure our current employees were ready to welcome these new workers into our family with open arms.
This entire project might not have succeeded without the help of Nobis Works. As I said earlier, Nobis Works is an Atlanta-area non-profit that, among many things, trains and hires individuals with all different disabilities into the workforce. They are the actual employer; we provide the job placement. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in this program. The team at Nobis Works has ensured a seamless process, and we work hand-in-hand with them to make the cafés successful. We speak openly about obstacles we need to overcome together and have a lot of fun making the dream of gainful employment come true for these young adults.
Simply put: in my experience, providing job opportunities to individuals with autism has been a home run. We are growing our business while being part of something much bigger and much more rewarding.
Here is a link to a video about Café Blends. Enjoy!