New business center in Phoenix helps students, adults with autism learn job skills

Jun 20, 2024, 4:35 AM

PHOENIX — A new training center that helps individuals with autism find jobs celebrated its grand opening on Tuesday.

The entrepreneurial programs at this center will give students a safe and supportive environment to practice real job skills, according to Diana Diaz-Harrison with Arizona Autism Charter Schools, the organization behind the center.

“It’s really important because our students need safe and supportive environments to practice real job skills,” Diaz-Harrison told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday. “They will be entrepreneurial here, developing menus and items to sell. And they’ll have the support that they need to be fulfilled, productive citizens.”

The center will have four businesses, including a café, a shirt retail and production shop, a shipping and receiving store and a tech repair studio.

The high schoolers and young adults who work at the center’s various businesses will gain real-world experiences in low-stakes situations, she added.

“Some of them can stay in our employment program indefinitely,” Diaz-Harrison said. “Some students will gain the skills to go out into the community and work in industry with all of the skills they have learned here.”

How will this new business center help people autism find jobs?

Partnerships with various companies helped to make this center possible, Diaz-Harrison said.

“One of our bigger ones is with Press Coffee, who is providing the coffee beans, training and support for our café,” she said.

Another company donated silk screening equipment to help students make shirts for the retail and production shop, she added.

“We’re working on partnerships with Amazon, to be an official drop-off site for returns,” Diaz-Harrison said. “We’re already working on partnerships in the tech business with Raytheon.”

Two other partnerships are currently in the works. One is with Banner Health to teach students about the health care field.

The other potential partnership is with U-Haul. This connection could help students with autism find jobs in the construction field, Diaz-Harrison said

“All of those partners have come to us through the Arizona Education Economic Commission, who we’re working with to launch a program for job training for neurodiverse kids,” she added.

It’s a huge relief to create a lifelong program to serve students and young adults who will need help over the course of years, Diaz-Harrison said.

“This program can be indefinite. It can be for a few years, or it can be when a person is ready to retire at 80 years old,” she said. “So this worry we parents have about the world stopping when the kids finish school is alleviated by knowing that we’ve been given the opportunity to create further adult programs for them.”

When will the businesses be ready to launch?

Currently, the center is hosting training programs for students through the center.

Diaz-Harrison said the businesses are expected to be up and running in the fall.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Colton Krolak contributed to this report.

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New business center in Phoenix helps students, adults with autism learn job skills