The Art of Autism profiles Spectrum Designs Foundation
Spectrum Designs Foundation is a non-profit organization supporting Autism employment. Spectrum operates three social enterprises – custom apparel and promotional items (www.spectrumdesigns.org), gourmet granola (www.spectrumbakes.org) and a boutique laundry (www.spectrumsuds.org)
All profits go towards advancing our mission – to help individuals with Autism lead productive and meaningful lives through the world of work. We design, produce and sell customized printed apparel (via screen print, digital print and embroidery), gourmet granola products and laundry services.
How did Spectrum Designs start?
Spectrum Designs Foundation began in 2011 in a 1-room barn in Co-Founder, Stella Spanakos’ backyard. Stella’s son, Nicholas (who inspired the organization) is a young man with Autism. When Nicholas was in Middle School, Stella began researching opportunities that would be available to her son as school-based programs finished at age 21. She was not encouraged with the day programs she saw which offered limited education, vocational training, social interaction or productivity. She knew these young men and women were deserving and, given the opportunity and support, were capable of so much more.
Stella got to work! She searched recession-proof businesses and found screen printing. It seems everyone needs t-shirts. She acquired a small screen print machine and started testing the process with her son, his classmates and some volunteer staff. They were pleased with what they saw. The screen-printing process had potential – as it is very linear- start with A, move to B and so on. This process works well with individuals on the Autism spectrum. Stella and her co-Founders, Nicole Sugrue and Patrick Bardsley began testing the waters with small jobs and quickly grew, followed by the purchase of a property in Port Washington, New York, which they named Nicholas Center.
Expansion to nearby office soon followed. With the mission firmly established – 75% of the staff are individuals on the spectrum, high quality products and stellar customer service – the client list grew and now includes well known names in industry, academia and entertainment, including Google, Uber, Face Book, Whole Foods, MTA, and myriad non-profit organizations and schools.
The dream of owning a building became a reality with the acquisition, renovation and move into a building in Winter 2018. The 7,500 square-foot building tripled our production capabilities and increased our staffing opportunities.
Additionally, in 2015 we launched two new social enterprises – Spectrum Bakes (gourmet granola) and Spectrum Suds (a boutique laundry). In 2018, our documentary film, This Business of Autism, premiered.
(www.thisbusinessofautism.com). The film has been screened at 8 U.S. film festivals and will premiere in Finland in Spring 2019. The documentary film, This Business of Autism, will be screen at the The Congressional Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC on April 9th (see details below).
How many employees do you hire and how many are on the autism spectrum?
Today, Spectrum Designs employs over 25 individuals with Autism, who make up 75% of its workforce. We also provide a venue for over 60 teens and young adults who seek pre-vocational training and an introduction to the world of work. In 2018, Spectrum Designs Foundation, Spectrum Bakes, Spectrum Suds and our educational partner, Nicholas Center (www.nicholascenterusa.org), created over 15,000 paid hours of meaningful employment for individuals with Autism.
What type of jobs are there?
Decoration Assistant – Operates and Maintains an 8-headed automatic screen printing machine that can print up to 700 shirts in one hour with someone with his skill set running it.
Senior Production Assistant – assists in the setting up, breaking down and routine cleaning of production equipment, as well as helps develop screens in our darkroom.
Lead Production Assistant – functions in many capacities on the production floor, including screen maintenance, darkroom processes, running machines in both screen printing and embroidery, and post-production work (packing orders)
Can you tell us a personal story about one of your employees?
Spectrum staff are flourishing at their jobs. Senior Production Assistant, Jossean Colon has been a loyal employee of Spectrum Designs for more than two years. He is a core member of the cleaning crew and takes much pride in this.
“My favorite thing to do is to clean. I am busy and I get to keep everything very neat for everyone.” He has dreams of one day living on his own. “I believe I will be working here at Spectrum Designs for a long time. I enjoy coming to work. I’m a hardworking young man and when I’m at work I don’t have to be at home bored.”
Prior to Spectrum Designs, Jossean worked a variety of jobs including a butcher shop, a super market and a movie theater. Jossean believes Spectrum Designs is different. “I like working with people who have Autism. I like showing everyone what I am capable of.”
What are future goals for Spectrum Designs?
In 2019, Spectrum has plans to expand to Westchester, New York. Spectrum II will replicate our social enterprise and educational programs. We hope to launch an artist’s series in 2019, highlighting the creative talents of our staff and other individuals on the Autism spectrum. Our plan is to highlight their art and to potentially sell apparel featuring their artwork on our website. More to come on these exciting plans!
Additional information about Spectrum Designs Foundation
Spectrum Designs Foundation. is a custom apparel and promotional items company, based in Port Washington, NY. A social enterprise supporting Autism employment, 75% of our staff are individuals on the Autism spectrum. Spectrum Designs, along with sister enterprises, Spectrum Bakes (gourmet granola) and Spectrum Suds (boutique laundry) and our educational partner, Nicholas Center (www.nicholascenterusa.org) develop innovative programs that offer vocational training, life skills and employment opportunities where there is often very little available. Once school-based programs finish at age 21, 70%-90% of these individuals are unemployed, under-employed and unengaged. Our business model demonstrates the capabilities of individuals on the Autism spectrum and other disabilities. As a non-profit organization, 100% of profits are returned to the 3 enterprises to support our mission – to help individuals with Autism lead productive and meaningful lives through the world of work. In addition, we also serve the families, caregivers and communities that support our participants with Autism.
Weekly video series: http://www.spectrumdesigns.org/spectrum-spotlights/
Please join Spectrum Designs Foundation for a reception and discussion celebrating the benefits of hiring young adults on the Autism spectrum, this will include a showing of our film, “This Business of Autism” . The film highlights the need for federal investment in supporting inclusive employment opportunities. Congressional Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center at 6pm on Tuesday, April 9th. This event is open to the public. For inquiries, call Spectrum Designs Foundation at: 516-888-9635.