Jan Pilarski and her son Chris Tidmarsh stand outside their aquaponic greenhouse, in which they look to employ individuals with autism.
Around 90 percent of individuals on the autism spectrum are unemployed. One mother has taken it upon herself to change this.
Jan Pilarski, of South Bend, Indiana, has a son with autism. He graduated from Hope College with a degree in chemistry and environmental studies. Though her son Chris was successful in landing a job in environmental research, he shortly lost it and had to move back home.
“Nearly all of his peers with autism were chronically unemployed despite having post-secondary degrees,” Pilarski says. “Our world seemed small and bleak. I didn’t have much hope to change the minds of potential employers to help Chris get a job.”
Jan took the “opportunity to be entrepreneurial” and started a prototype aquaponic greenhouse, employing her son and others diagnosed with autism. The prototype was successful, and the mother and son team turned to the internet to fund a larger, commercial project. According to Jan and Chris, each greenhouse will produce more than 45,000 pounds of vegetables per year and employ five individuals with autism.
So far they have been able to raise more than $15,000, well over their initial goal.
Their efforts are part of a larger, national trend to support young adults with ASD as they enter the workforce.
ICare4Autism, a non-profit affiliated with Shema Kolainu, is undertaking several different workforce initiatives- including the Global Workforce Initiative which works on collaborating with major business entities to examine and discover the best practices and transition plans for those diagnosed with autism that then can be replicated globally.
Another program- Project Autism WORKS- will focus on training young adults with autism for the workforce. Partnering with local schools, ICare4Autism will then refer job-ready, potential candidates for positions in area businesses, like Walgreens- whose workforce already consists of 25 percent disabled employees.
Programs and developments like these will be the topic for discussion on the first day of ICare4Autism’s international conference being held in New York City on June 30, 2014.
Already in New York State, Senator Chuck Schumer is pushing for legislation (the AGE-IN Act) to develop programs similar to the one Jan and Chris created.
“Food has great power and potential,” Jan writes on the Huffington Post. “For us, it has made our lives whole once again and been a path for greater inclusion for Chris and others with autism. Indeed, a place at the table of life.”
To learn more about ICare4Autism’s local and global workforce initiatives, read here: http://www.icare4autism.org/global-autism-center/comprehensive-autism-workforce-development-initiative/
To watch the video on Jan and Chris’s greenhouse initiative, follow the link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIaO9o4unK4