On Monday evening, Autism Speaks held its fifth Small Business Town Hall meeting, hosted by the University of North Texas (UNT) Kristin Farmer Autism Center in Denton, Texas. Due to the tremendous need for appropriate employment opportunities for adults with autism, and benefitting from close collaboration with the University and its Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation, UNT hosted the largest Town Hall meeting of the series. More than 120 attendees packed the room (standing room only!) including adults with autism and their families, small business owners, employment service providers 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 also exhibited materials and products to the Town Hall participants on tables around the room.
The three small businesses that were featured on the panel at this Town Hall meeting were:
- Extraordinary Ventures, Chapel Hill, N.C.
- nonPareil Institute, Plano, Texas
- Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn, Louisburg, Kan. and Brunswick, Ga.
All of the presentations were inspirational. Joe Steffy, a young man with Down Syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, gave a presentation which brought the crowd to its feet. Using a Dynavox, pictures and a video, Joe told the the story of a young boy whose future had been predicted by the professionals to be at best, unpromising. That young boy, Joe himself, is now a business owner 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, DARS (vocational rehab in Texas) showed the genuine commitment of Texas to employ people on the spectrum.
“This was a wonderful opportunity for Autism Speaks to collaborate with national and local partners and really SHOW families what we do,” said Pat Robbins, local Autism Speaks director. “It was rewarding to see how motivated the families were after hearing from these three amazing businesses!”
Autism Speaks looks forward to hosting four subsequent Small Business Town Halls this Fall, including one in Evanston, Ill., on Wednesday, Oct. 23! 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.