That is what it costs to support all the individuals with Autism each year. Now imagine instead of costing money, they actually add 32 Billion? That is what I am hoping to accomplish with my business plan. Okay, I won't be able to help every single individual, but even if I can help 10% that would be a big relieve to everyone.
Not to mention the relief on the health system - having a valid job and reason to wake up each day lessens the chance for depression and keeps these individuals out of the hospital.
Last week at the business plan competition I ended up as the runner up for the social plan. This is a good thing, it means that someone believes in my plan and it may actually be valid, it just needs a little work and refinement. I know the more research I make into the financial impact and the return on investment it is something that would work, be sustainable and have a life span of years.
Sometimes you have to help yourself in order to help others. I know my plan will help my son and his friends, and then it will turn around and help many others.
I just hope that at some point I am able to clearly explain it in three minutes. Tomorrow is my next chance to work on my pitch- then perhaps in a few short months I will try out for Shark-Tank. That may just be my answer.
As a digital storyteller, it is sometimes difficult to turn off my brain. I find myself thinking of story ideas in the simplest of places. Take today, for instance, I was at the Wisconsin Humane Society dropping off an injured bird I found in the back yard. The easy story here would have been about the bird and how I kept it in my home for three days to make sure it was going to be alright. But that isn't the story that came to me as I walked across the parking lot.
About two years ago the society started building an area in their parking lot that appears from the road to be a meeting place. So after I had made sure my new little friend would be taken care of and had a chance to be returned to the wild, I headed to the structure to see what was up.
The area is a beautifully sculpted center walled off from the city traffic a short distance away. When you walk around the corner and through the arch you are greeted by non-other than St. Francis himself. A large carved wall at the other end of the garden informs the wandering visitor that this is Lorraine's Garden. It was created through a gift from a family that truly saw the value in not only caring for animals, but welcoming them into your family.
While I was marveling in the beautiful garden and the peace it brought to my heart a family approached and started looking at the bricks, for a small amount you can buy a brick and remember a loved one, and their love for nature. They had purchased a brick for their grand mother, the family consisted of a husband, wife and their two sons. I watched for a brief moment and then headed to my car. I wanted to remember this moment and I started writing a story in my head. I thought to myself, if that family could only sit with me for five minutes, I would love to find out more about grand mom and why animals where so important to her life. I am sure there was more than one story that travels through Lorraine's Garden, and I'm happy that Lorraine's family thought of others when it came time to remember her life and the animals she cared about, that is another story I'd love to tell. Perhaps this is why Einstein Productions means so much to me, besides the obvious people we will help in the store, its the number of stories out there just waiting to be told.
Autism has a far and wide reach. Even if it doesn't directly affect you, chances are that it affects someone you know. It came as no surprise to me, then yesterday when I received an email from a colleague which detailed a new educational opportunity starting up at Milwaukee's Discovery World. They have teamed up with Translator Digital Cafe to start a venture entitled "Islands of Brilliance".
As I read the brief of what this collaboration offered I became increasingly excited. They are developing almost the same learning opportunity for Middle and High School students that we are trying to accomplish at Einstein Productions. I have reached out to "Islands of Brillance" in hopes that we can form a partnership as well. Imagine how wonderful it would be for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to graduate from high school and know that they could transition to a career training center that will allow them to expand on skills they already have been developing. It would allow this section of society to realize that they can move into adult life with hope and anticipation for a life similar to their peers.
As a parent, I can tell you that would have been a great feeling, sitting in the auditorium, watching my son cross the stage, and realize he has a chance at a life, owning his own home, celebrating with friends and co-workers as a job well done becomes a shinning moment for his employer.
I look forward to hearing back and will fill you in on any progress we are able to make.
I work at Marquette University and the overall 'theme' for this year is "Freedom". When I see Freedom as a word, in my life, it is the freedom to explore, to expand the knowledge of others, to dream for a world that has developed an understanding and acceptance of those that are different. My personal focus for this year is to expand the knowledge and understanding of the community towards individuals with Asperger Syndrome. I know this community and the talent they possess, it is raw, untapped skill that has been placed on the back burner. A skill that can be woken up with the use of technology. I attended a breakfast yesterday which welcomed Marquette's Entrepreneur in residence, David Bornstein. He mentioned in his welcome speech that researchers are finding that digital technology can be the leveling agent to individuals with special needs. It made me smile, this is exactly what I have been working on for the past five years, first doing work with my son and his friends with Asperger Syndrome. It started with Second Life and the awakening that we could attend social functions, completely anonymously and learn social networking skills. This expanded to the online meeting organizing tool, Meetup, which has brought 75 families together in the common interest of empowering their loved ones.
Through these meetings one thing became clear, finding and securing a career was a must if individuals were to be able to have a feeling of self-worth and add to quality of life.
I knew where my focus needed to be - but how could I assist with so many that had such varying needs? The answer was right in front of me, which is usually the case. I could use my skills as a technology trainer.
Over the next two and a half years many versions of this training came to light, a LEGO store was the first try, but the overhead and money needed to start such a venture was well beyond my reach. I teamed with two other families and we formed a non-profit organization that could be used to create a work environment for this part of society.
In March of 2012 the opportunity finally presented itself to have an office, a real space that would put into practice what we had been writing down and outlining on too many notebooks and pieces of paper. The main mall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was offering store fronts to pop-up groups. We fit the mold, and although we were turned down for our first idea, we kept moving forward and pivoting (a term we learned all too well). By the start of August a lease was signed and work began on Einstein Productions, a digital storytelling space that would offer Marquette University Alumni the opportunity to free-lance their talent in an office space, complete with street address and phone number different from their home.
In exchange for use of the office space, these mentors would build social, work and technical skills required by adults with Asperger Syndrome.
The store needed many upgrades to electrical, furniture and a fresh coat of paint before we could open the doors. Members of the group donated time and money towards renovations. On September 17, 2012 Einstein Productions opened its doors to the public. Check out the photo gallery to see the work that went into making this space a reality.
On October 1, 2012 we will celebrate with a grand opening - if you are in the Milwaukee Area - stop on the second floor of the Grand Avenue Mall - the Plankinton building side - and say hello!
Carole Burns is a multi-media specialist. She is one of the co-founders of Einstein Productions. Carole is the mother of a 24 year old radio mogul and a 21 year old photographer.