November is National Entrepreneur Month. The Art of Autism is focused on autistic entrepreneurs and organizations that assist them. As part of this series of blogs I had a chance to talk with Jenny Anderson, Director of Celebrate Edu, a nonprofit which provides curricula and workshops that assist people with disabilities to gain skills for success in business. Jenny is 29 and has been inspired by her autistic brother Brent who is two years older than her.
By Debra Muzikar
When did you first know that Brent was different?
I first noticed Brent was different in elementary school. I was in the first grade and he in the second.
I noticed that Brent walked in the hallway by himself talking to himself. I noticed other students laughed at him. Brent was unaware of their laughter.
I made a big effort to stand up for him. I would try to bring Brent into conversations.
Once people knew him, they could see him as a person.
How did Brent’s autism effect your childhood?
While other children had play dates, I didn’t bring many friends home. I only brought friends home who I knew would be nice to Brent. It limited my social circle.
When I was a senior in high school someone made a joke about autistic people comparing them to the R-word.
“You don’t know anything about autism,” I told them.
In high school, my biggest fear was that other students would make fun of Brent.
Did you feel Brent received more attention than you?
I never felt Brent received more attention than me. Mom organized different activities for us. I had special days. I accompanied Brent to his O.T. I thought it was fun play time!
I never had resentment of Brent. I think it was the way Brent’s autism was presented to me.
How has Brent influenced what you do now?
I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it was not for Brent. I knew Brent was different. We attended different schools. We fought like siblings.
How has Brent’s disability effected his life?
It wasn’t until college that I saw Brent struggling. I could see how the disability effected his life. I was doing well in school. I felt guilty that things that were easy for me were difficult for Brent.
Brent is one of the smartest people I know. He was aware of his own difficulties. His low self-worth made me feel bad.
However, his confidence increased with the book Unintentional Humor. (Written by Linda Anderson, Brent’s mom – with illustrations that depicted how Brent sees the world).
How has the book Unintentional Humor helped Brent?
When I saw Brent speaking for the first time at the Rainbow Center in Oxnard in 2012 I had an epiphany.
In private conversations Brent struggles. He stutters and has word retrieval issues. But on stage he was confident. He was transformed – a completely different person.
He was amazing on stage which made me realize his calling may be speaking to groups.
The book has facilitated opportunities for Brent to speak in public.
What is your calling?
To facilitate that type of growth in people.
How have you done that?
I left Graduate School in 2013 and decided to start an organization called Celebrate Autism. Mom helped me find an incubator program called Seed Spot in Phoenix. I had six months to launch a nonprofit. On Demo Day at the end of the program, I presented the Celebrate Autism nonprofit to 1,000 people. I won the nonprofit prize of $25,000 which gave me the green light to go ahead.
I wanted to help autistic people find success in transition. I talked to many families which clarified Celebrate Autism’s mission.
In January 2014, we started developing supported entrepreneur curriculum. In summer of 2014, we conducted a pilot program with 18 students in Colorado and California. Each of the students completed the curriculum and we were able to fine tune it.
In Spring 2015 we ran the curriculum for the first time at the Temple Grandin School in Boulder. The program is an introduction to Entrepreneurship and teaches business basics. The students come up with a business idea and see if it works. We give the students support with developing their business ideas, including support with selling and marketing.
Since then, we’ve expanded our curriculum partnering with high schools and transition programs. (They also changed their name to Celebrate Edu and included other disabilities).
What do students require to take the classes?
The classes are online. They need access to a computer.
How has Brent been part of your nonprofit?
Brent has been helpful in developing the curriculum. He’s watched the videos and gave us critiques and explanations, especially about vocabulary. We had a conversation about what the word “revenue” means. He has told us if he thinks something is boring.
Can you tell me of a strength Brent has that you don’t?
Public Speaking. I remember the first time we spoke together. Brent told me “Jenny calm down. If you mess up, I’ll cover for you.”
Brent was genuinely concerned about me. He told mom “You need to make sure Jenny is going to be okay.”
What has Brent taught you?
Brent has definitely made me more understanding of other people. Don’t judge others by appearances. He has taught me to communicate directly. Many people aren’t used to this. Some people say “I’m fine” when they are not.
Brent has made me more honest.
Celebrate EDU is a proud recipient of Chick-fil-A Foundation’s 2018 True Inspiration Award. Chick-fil-A Foundation recognizes organizations from across the country that help inspire and motivate our future leaders. They recognize organizations having a positive influence on youth in our communities by supporting innovative education, youth entrepreneurship, and youth leadership. Celebrate EDU is awarded as a leader in youth entrepreneurship.
Celebrate Edu has a new slogan #DiscoverYourAWESOME. This holiday season support people with disabilities by shopping #DiscoverYourAWESOME products.