I can work.
“Exceptional Entrepreneurs” Project
We can give them a little and help them a lot, helping them become successful, independent, productive, happy members of society; or we can watch them often regress and as a society spend millions supporting them.
The “Exceptional Entrepreneurs” Project is a concept waiting for implementation. For decades we, as an organization dedicated to helping individuals achieve their potential, have been extremely frustrated by the inability of many of our young adults to find appropriate jobs and careers. As an example, there are many individuals with Down syndrome that we have assisted in achieving processing abilities that permit them to learn and think well and academic skills that are often more than adequate for many positions. They have developed acceptable speech and language, and we have taught them to be highly capable and responsible, taking on many of the jobs at home, from food shopping and preparation to laundry and cleaning. The unfortunate reality is the job opportunities available to them are menial at best. The target job offered by most vocational centers is bagging groceries, not as a stepping-stone, but as an ultimate employment goal. The realities for many of these motivated individuals are very depressing. We have national unemployment rates of close to 9%, or possibly as high as 15%, for the general population. Let’s compound that by looking at those who are extremely short, overweight, perhaps have a slight speech impediment, or look atypical, then the odds of finding gainful employment drops to near zero. But many of these young adults can work, demonstrate that they can work, and are often highly motivated to work. And some even have exceptional abilities.
Having watched thousands of these great young men and women grow and develop, we have evaluated their strengths and inefficiencies and believe that for many of them it is possible to have successful, fulfilling lives and to contribute to society.
As an example many folks with Down syndrome have an exceptional ability to remember names, often after hearing the name only once. We are often awed when three months after their first evaluation they walk in, greet us by name, and ask how our kids Johnny and Susie and our dog Spot all are. They remember these names because they are interested, because they care, and because friends are often the most important thing in their lives and everyone they meet is potentially a “friend.” How can you make a living off such an ability, particularly if you add hard-working, motivated, and personable to the list? In our view what you have is an ideal small service business owner who can build a loyal customer base. This is but one example of how individuals with special needs can contribute. Many of our families appreciate the problems facing their sons and daughters and are interested in starting a small business that their children can grow into, but they lack the knowledge of how to go about it.
Phase I of our Exceptional Entrepreneurs Program is to help create some small business models for families of exceptional young adults. Many families would love to start a business that their son or daughter can participate in, but need some guidance and expertise. As an example a few of our families have already created home businesses, transferring photos to DVDs, creating albums, transferring VCR tapes to DVDs, etc. These little businesses give the young adults a purpose and an income. But we can do more, much more. The NACD Foundation will be seeking individuals to form a team to help create small business blueprints for families and possibly even provide some start-up funds.
Phase II is a much more ambitious, but greatly needed project. Phase II will incorporate the creation of a residential finishing school—an entrepreneurial “college.” The concept is for the Foundation to establish a short-term “college,” which will focus on three critical areas. The first is teaching the individual how to be highly capable. This involves: identifying weak areas, establishing an individualized program to fill in their deficits, and teaching them the skills they need to function independently, which covers everything from grocery shopping and cooking to how to maintain the living space, understanding money and the use of money, grooming, social and communication skills. The second area is an integral part of this program, which is the development of critical neurodevelopmental function to build the cognitive foundation upon which functional academic and job skills can be established. The third area will involve a coordinated program involving the student, parents, possibly a local support team, “college” personnel, and business advisors. This third critical piece involves establishing a career/business target and coordinating the pieces to reach that target. The target may be building a business for the student or the development of the needed skills to be gainfully employed. One of the goals is to establish relationships with national businesses, such as restaurant chains-- businesses that can offer not only job opportunities, but also job advancement; businesses that can work with NACD to define the required abilities and associated skills to help our student be successful. The objective is to provide the student with the skill set needed to acquire gainful employment in their home community or to provide the training and assistance they need to create their own business.
Phase III involves creating a replicable business or businesses, which may take the form of franchises or other business models. There are two replicable models we have considered.
The first model we have been exploring for years, which is the creation of coffee shops or a similar small restaurant concept. This model would be built around a business that would be operated by two or more people per shift. Our Exceptional Entrepreneur would do those tasks that fit their talents and interests, and the other employees would complete the other required tasks. The concept is to create an assessment of strengths, weaknesses, and interests for students in the “college” and based on that assessment, determine eligibility for the “coffee shop” program. For those who qualify, the NACD Foundation would assist in raising the funds to help build the individual’s business, the entrepreneur would receive oversight and assistance from the Foundation, and they would be permitted through their hours of work to repay the Foundation and ultimately own their own business. It is understood that there many legal, tax, and governmental issues related to this project; but on an individual basis we feel it can be accomplished. Many of our Exceptional Entrepreneurs would be happy working long hours, spending their days with their friends doing something they love and enjoy, and being contributing members of society. Side benefits to this program include peace of mind for the families of our Exceptional Entrepreneurs, a dramatic financial savings to our country, and a way to show the general population how some of our exceptional individuals can function, contribute, and provide inspiration for many.
The second concept is designed for those with reasonably good verbal and communication skills. This concept would be appropriate for those with physical or other limitations that make moving beyond their home difficult or for those needing some supervision. We are calling this business “A Friend in Need.” The concept for this program could be accomplished on a volunteer basis or could become a viable business. This business would involve contracting with health care companies and would also involve private pay. There are many shut-ins and seniors who live by themselves or in group situations where their social involvement, supervision, and support is extremely limited. In this model the Exceptional Entrepreneurs would be contracted to call these shut-ins and seniors per a contract. The calls could be everything from a few times per day to weekly. Our Entrepreneurs would have records for each individual and would be able to make necessary calls for help or support, but would be a “friend” checking in and visiting with their charges.
There are many models that could be established to provide meaningful employment for a broad range of our exceptional adults. Our goal is to put together a team of parents and businessmen and women who can start the process to provide meaning to these lives, integrate them into the adult community, and let them become contributing members of society.