Ability Beyond receives grant from Connecticut Community Foundation to support young adults

Connecticut Community Foundation has awarded a $5,000 grant to Ability Beyond, an area nonprofit, to train young people in Greater Waterbury and Litchfield hills with autism spectrum disorders in business and entrepreneurial skills.

“Ability Beyond is deeply grateful for this meaningful community investment, to continue bridging the gap to opportunity for young people with disabilities,” said Jane Davis, president and CEO of Ability Beyond. “We know that self-employment is a crucial but underexplored option for ambitious and creative young people who may face barriers in other work or miss the chance to fulfill their personal business vision. Through programs like Explorations in Entrepreneurship, we’re empowering participants to realistically run their own start-ups.”

Unemployment rates are disproportionately high among adults with autism spectrum disorders around the world, over 80 percent. In 2013, the Office of Disability Employment Policy reported that self-employment should be among the nation’s disability employment policy priorities, as a viable means to fulfilling work and economic independence.

Ellen Carter, director of community leadership at Connecticut Community Foundation, said, “With this grant, the Foundation aims to assist people with autism spectrum disorders in getting on track towards a fulfilling career path and successful employment. We are thrilled to support Ability Beyond in their work towards achieving these significant goals.”

The money will support AB in running a six-week workshop for recent high school graduates with autism spectrum disorders who are unemployed and seeking job training. Program partners include the University of Connecticut, the Small Business Association, SCORE, local chambers of commerce, the Department of Economic Development, a number of health and human service agencies and the Connecticut Department of Labor.

Explorations in Entrepreneurship teaches a wide range of job skills, as well as fundamental business principles like how to get a business started, how to price goods and services, how to collaborate with local chambers of commerce, customer service, and more. The program ends with a capstone project modeled after the television show “Shark Tank”—with a complete business pitch included.

“I witnessed a group of very passionate young people, present ideas they had, to better themselves through employment, using those ideas. They were very specific and showed a dedication to create products, start social programs, and engage others in the fields of art, building and salesmanship,” said David Bishop, one of our “sharks.”

Already a number of participants have won “shark” funding to start their own businesses, including a line of handmade tutus, an online comic book resale shop, a t-shirt business and a cupcake company.

“An Evening in the Garden” gala hosted by Ability Beyond was an amazing success thanks to the generosity of supporters and sponsors. The annual black-tie event was held on April 29 at the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury, attracting close to 500 guests and raising $600,000.   Entertainment was provided…