A $125,000 grant from the Coleman Foundation announced today will fund the pilot and launch of Have Dreams Academy at Have Dreams, an autism resource nonprofit in Evanston.

Have Dreams Academy is an autism-speciïc workplace training program for high school graduates and young adults with ASD seeking to successfully navigate future employment, career planning, college or post-secondary coursework.

The program organizers say young adults with autism face great challenges securing employment and navigating adult life independently once they have completed their education programs.

In partnership with the I Love Sweets bakery in Evanston, funding will support the development of a manufacturing curriculum, a related soft skills curriculum and job assessment tools that can be adapted for each program participant.

In addition, the grant provides for the engagement of an intern from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. The intern will assist in the collection and analysis of Have Dreams Academy students’ job training and performance data at the bakery.

The intern will also assist in the creation a business case which outlines the economic benefits of hiring Have Dreams Academy students. This business case will then be used to develop a pipeline of employers for Have Dreams Academy graduates.

“The need for vocational and workplace training for young adults impacted by autism has never been greater,” said Kris Johnsen, Have Dreams founder and executive director. “We field calls every day from concerned parents who are looking for options.  Our focus is on utilizing the strengths of people with ASD so that their employment provides a business advantage to the employer, too.”

“As a funder of programs in disabilities as well as entrepreneurship education, we see great potential in the collaboration between Have Dreams, I Love Sweets bakery and their Kellogg School of Management intern to discover, document and articulate the profit-driving reasons for employing individuals with ASD in manufacturing settings”, said Clark McCain, senior program officer at The Coleman Foundation.

Have Dreams Academy participants will acquire a variety of transferrable job skills needed for competitive employment, increase social and communication skills — “soft skills” — needed for career readiness, formulate a personal plan for disclosure, including needed job supports or accommodations, develop their own resume and electronic portfolio matching strengths and interests, and practice job interviewing and the use of job searching strategies.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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