Susan and Sarah Sullivan are a mother and daughter duo working together to provide job training and employment opportunities for those on the autism spectrum. I caught up with Susan to find out more about their new nonprofit, PreLOVED Toys. Now this isn’t a sequel to a popular animated film, but it’s an endearing toy story that brings the autistic job opportunities. You’ll be inspired by these super heroine entrepreneurs who are creating positive futures for autistic adults.
What inspired you and Sarah to start PreLOVED Toys?
My disappointment over the lack of employment opportunities for my son James and others like him. A great deal of taxpayer money went in to a variety of educational programs to help James succeed in grammar school through high school. This equipped him to earn a degree in Cinema Production without any educational assistance. However, four years after graduation he still doesn’t have a full time job so he can’t support himself. He currently works as a substitute aide in special needs classrooms with students who are 6 to 24 years old. He has great patience and a huge heart for these kids and he worries about their vocational futures. 90% of high functioning autistic adults are underemployed or unemployed, thus depriving them of the pride of having full time employment.
Thinking about his students’ capabilities and my friends who are overwhelmed by their children’s outgrown toys, I realized a toy recycling business could solve both problems. Our main focus is to create jobs for people who have autism and other challenges because after years of theirs and their educators hard work, they should have the chance to earn a living. By giving toys another chance to play, we are giving people a chance to work. James created a fun 1.5 minute video using pictures of the friends who inspired us, to tell our story:
Give as an overview about how PreLOVED Toys works.
Parents donate toys at schools, churches and other convenient locations. The toys are taken to our Toy Workshop where our employees sort, clean, replace batteries, perform safety checks, package, price and inventory the toys. They form partnerships with retail stores that sell our toys. We will have jobs for people with varying abilities from people who work part-time cleaning toys to people who manage the Toy Workshops and interface with our stores. Our long term goal is to expand locations across the country. More Toy Workshops = more jobs = more lives transformed and less toys in landfills.
Why did you choose to become a nonprofit?
Rather than making money for stockholders we want to invest in future employment opportunities for as many people as possible by using our resources to expand across the country.
You are really just getting started aren’t you? Where are you at in the development of this nonprofit that will employ autistic adults?
The Cove School, our neighborhood grammar school, is excited about being our first donation partner! The students are learning how to reduce their carbon footprint and donating their toys to be reused is a tangible lesson they understand. We are overflowing with wonderful gently used toys after our first two toy drives! We are creating the process employees will follow to transform donated toys into toys that are clean, safe and ready for a new life. We are currently looking for retail partners to sell our toys. Once we start making some sales and raise money through our Indiegogo fundraiser we will rent space for our first Toy Workshop and hire our first employees!
Where are you located?
We are located 20 minutes north of San Francisco in Corte Madera.
Creating a new company, even a nonprofit, is a huge undertaking and quite a journey! Can you share anything wonderful or surprising that’s happened so far?
A huge undertaking for sure! What surprises me most is the enormous gratitude parents have that we are creating meaningful job opportunities with their children’s used toys. I have received numerous thank you notes from parents signed with their children’s names. People I have never met give me bags of toys, tell me how much they appreciate what we are doing, and even give me hugs. Their enthusiasm keeps me going!
What’s your dream for PreLOVED Toys?
To have PreLOVED Toys in local stores and major retailers across the country so we can employ as many people as possible in Toy Workshops across the country. 1 in 68 people are on the autism spectrum, so the demand for employment is tremendous. We want to give people a chance to work so they can lead more meaningful lives.
How can people help you realize that dream?
In order to employ people we need to raise enough money to pay rent and furnish our first workshop. If everyone who likes our idea gives a small or large tax-deductible donation we can open our first workshop in early 2015. If enough people donate the price of a cup of coffee or a dinner out it will help make a huge difference in the lives of people who want to work. It’s not just my dream; it’s also the dream of people with autism and other challenges to have meaningful work. Please help them realize their dreams!
In what other ways can people show support?
Please share the link to our website with your friends and encourage them to give. Introductions to retail stores are also greatly appreciated!
Finally, what advice do you have for other parents or family members who are interested in starting companies that will employ autistic adults?
Make sure you have a strong team, plenty of time and energy, and financial support.
Find our more about PreLOVED Toys on:
Are you an autism entrepreneur? Someone who has started a company or nonprofit that employs autistic adults? Or are you in the process of starting one? We want to feature you on our blog. Email us via our contact page or direct message us on Facebook.