Amber: Hi I’m Amber Ambrose and this is BusinessMakers USA brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Today we’re coming to you from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and my guest is Maria Jacobo, the Founder – Co-founder actually – of HAAPE which is a nonprofit organization. So Maria, welcome to the show.
Maria: Thank you for having me Amber, great to see you.
Amber: Yeah, absolutely. So tell me about HAAPE.
Maria: It means Helping Adults with Autism Perform and Excel. So as my son – I have a son with Autism – grew older I saw the need of having an organization that would reach out to parents and let them know the potential of their children or their young adults and that they could be not only meaningful to society but they can belong somewhere. They can be trained and they can be part of society by working somewhere. So that’s something that when you have a child with Autism it’s kind of foreign to you. My son is 19 today so when he started growing up my thought was okay, I’m going to get him through therapy and he’s going to get fixed; that’s mostly what the parents think. And as they grow you realize okay, this is something that can’t be fixed but this is who he is.
Amber: It doesn’t need fixing per se.
Maria: Exactly. But some of the parents 20 years ago, 15 years ago, we didn’t know exactly what Autism was and what we were dealing with. So once you realize the set of potentials that your son has then you work with that. This is what happened with me. So I decided with a group of very nice, fine people from Weston to sort of join forces. They were starting their organization, I was starting mine, and we kind of joined forces and we created what HAPPE is today. So HAPPE not only is training them, but it’s going to position them in a workplace; so working in sight.
Maria: We also have a job board where based on your set of sills you will be matched to a job. And the beauty of HAAPE is that most of our young adults with Autism they can go out there and work. And it takes a lot of money for an employer to invest in their company and have them included as part of their staff. So what HAAPE thought was not only are we going to create this center where they’re going to be training –
Amber: So it’s a physical location?
Maria: Yes – in software testing, but we’re going to employ them in sight and that’s what we’re doing.
Amber: So it’s a pipeline?
Amber: So your location houses the organization which has all the advocacy aspects. And then it has the training.
Amber: And then those people go immediately into the workforce, in the same building?
Maria: The whole facility is going to be open early next year.
Maria: So what we’re doing now is advocating, we have done – creating amazing partnerships with other organizations called UCO – United Community Options. They’ve been in this community, Ft. Lauderdale, for over 70 years – Miami and West Palm Beach – and they have that support system that we need.
Amber: Right. So they built that there for you to use for your organization.
Maria: Yes, exactly. So we have partnered in the sense that they needed a partner for the 18 and over and they had the space and the people, the qualifications. So we said we don’t want to invent the wheel, we want to make it better. We joined forces because at the end of the day we are all a community.
Maria: And having a person with Autism now is 1 in 64. When my son was small it was 1 in 300. It became 1 in 250 then 1 in 64. The latest statistics is 1 in 44. They say by 2030 probably it will be 1 in 3; hopefully not. So this is something that touches everyone. At this point not only do you have a son, you have a brother, you have a cousin, you have a friend that has a son or a person with Autism at home. And that’s why we’ve said there’s nothing out there for when they graduate from high school when they’re loved and they’re sheltered and the teachers are amazing.
Amber: And then it’s real world.
Maria: And after that they have to hit it out there and it’s very scary.
Amber: Well you were telling me obviously Autism had its own set of strengths as far as being an employee that you were pointing out before the interview, tell me about those.
Maria: Well one of the strengths that they have is that they’re very attention to detail; the ability to stay on task and focused for a longer period of time. They don’t have the ambition of flipping from one job to the next to the next as many people do, so they’re going to be very loyal employees and they’re going to stay with you a long time.
Maria: And they have a unique ability to be good at one thing. Today a lot of people want to be good at many things, but they develop that ability since they were young. They have one skill and they develop it really well, so they excel in that. So as an employee not only are you going to see their loyalty and integrity of a person who is going to do an excellent job because they’re going to see things that other people won’t be able to see.
Amber: And why did y’all focus on technology for your training?
Maria: Well for us it’s software testing for now. Of course we’re trying – me being a mom I want to include everyone and have everything.
Amber: And you’re just a year old as an organization, is that correct?
Maria: Yes, we are a year old but we see that need. We saw another organization in Chicago doing amazing work; it’s called Aspiritech and they’re also helping us here build this. Like I said, it takes a village to raise a child; for us it takes a community, it takes a country. And we have that leadership out there in the world and we can do it in Autism, so when we saw what they were doing, that not only were they able to have within the spectrum those that are good in technology and software testing, but they’re able to employ them. And right now they’re rate of success is unbelievable. They’re not employing people because they’re Autistic but because they provide an excellent work. So being Autistic is like third.
Amber: Well you just happen to be.
Maria: Yes. And this is what we want to do. We don’t want to be known or higher because we’re here with Autistic people, we want to prove that they’re able to do an excellent job in what they do and that it’s going to be very convenient for employers to come and hire them because of what they have to offer.
Amber: And you’ve trained them and all your ducks are in a row.
Maria: Some of them are coming with a bachelor’s degree or a certification, but when they come to the center of course the employer is going to train them in whatever software testing they need them to do, it’s a minimal training but they already come with an excellent background. And a set of skills that help that background too. And that some of what we wanted to say out there; 97% of young adults with Autism are unemployed or under employed and that’s because they can’t survive sometimes out there in the real world. They get lost in translation like I say. But now that they’re going to be able to have a place to work they’re going to be able to show the world and show the community I’m able to do this and do it well.
Amber: So obviously it’s a spectrum so there’s many different abilities and other things along that spectrum, how do you address the broadness of that in your organization?
Maria: Well that’s why we started with the technology center. Within the spectrum you have the high functioning, the Asperger’s and those who are in a let’s say regular range but they’re very gifted when it comes to software testing, coding and other areas of technology so we started with that first. What called my attention is that in that area there are a lot of jobs and they’re well-performed by them, they’re very well paid, and the center will be self sustained. Not only each adult with Autism will get their own payment but the center is going to be able to work independently.
We started as a foundation but our goal is for them to leave and be productive independently. For the rest of them we have the vocational center in our minds. It hasn’t been started yet but with the partnership that we have with UCO they’re already doing assembling makeup and other things. I have one of my friends that’s a clothing designer and she had a few of them paint on some fabric and she created a whole line. There are some of them doing candles or addressing some data input. So whatever the area is hopefully HAAPE will be able to meet them further down the line. But right now…
Amber: This is the focus now.
Maria: This is the focus now. And for a lot of parents when you look at your child you might not think your child he’s able to do it. But when you see his progress at school or you come to the center and he of course is going to be tested on it, that’s when you really know. I’ve seen a lot of surprises. I’ve seen a lot of surprises so I don’t believe that anybody is disqualified. I think everybody just has different sets of gifts and talents and so that’s how we’re kind of working through the spectrum. And my desire as a mom is that I’m able to cover everyone; nobody will be left behind and that everybody will find their true calling, their true purpose and potential.
Amber: That’s great. Thank you so much for being on the show, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of really good things ahead of you.
Maria: Yes indeed, thank you. And I love doing it.
Amber: Awesome. Once again I’m Amber Ambrose, this is Maria Jacobo and this is BusinessMakers USA here in Ft. Laurderdale, Florida.
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