Can a Coleman Foundation Grant Help Autistic Adults Get Jobs?

If you think finding a job is rough, trying being an adult with autism. Looking past the inspirational success stories featured in feel-good magazines, autistic adults have really struggled to get hired and maintain steady work.

But there are a few entrepreneurs and nonprofits in the Chicago area that are combining good ol’ fashioned business sense with a mission to help adults with challenges.

Jean Kroll is the owner of the Sugar & Spice Extraordinary Sweet Treat in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. Kroll and a local autism nonprofit, Have Dreams, connected with the Chicago-based Coleman Foundation to secure a $125,000 grant. However, this grant wasn’t for startup costs or to train autistic workers. Instead, it was to hire an MBA student to collect productivity data and determine whether it makes sense to hire autistic workers from a business perspective.

“What we saw was the opportunity to build a business case,” said Clark McCain, senior program officer at the Coleman Foundation. “That’s a language that other business owners will be able to understand.” If the bakery program succeeded, the data could be used to persuade other business to hire people with disabilities."

This is a unique approach to disabilities funding, but it makes a lot of sense. 

“Small businesses hire based on economics,” said Kroll, who put her life savings into the bakery. “Most of us are not big enough to hire based on a philanthropic approach.”

Once Kroll and her staff set the bar higher for her autistic employees, they began to perform better at the bakery. The Northwestern University student entrusted with the productivity assessment emerged with glowing results.

“This is a good business decision,” Kroll says. “It just so happens that it’s also a really good social decision and a good moral decision too.”

The positive local publicity that Kroll’s bakery has received reflects well upon the Coleman Foundation’s funding strategy. Rather than just helping a socially-conscious entrepreneur get her business off the ground, Coleman is helping to promote the general idea that autistic workers can be excellent additions to staff.

To learn more about Coleman’s local developmental disabilities grantmaking, read IP’s post, A Look at the Coleman Foundation’s Developmental Disabilities Program and the Coleman Foundation’s What We Fund page.