Yes She Can and Girl Power on the Autism Spectrum

Yes She Can

Business: Yes She Can Inc.

Mission:

Women with Autism. We work. With you. Yes She Can Inc. helps young women with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) develop transferable job skills and gain greater independence through our intensive coaching program at Girl AGain boutique.

What is Yes She Can Inc.?

Yes She CanWe are a 501c3 nonprofit founded in November, 2013, by Marjorie Madfis, a mother of a daughter with ASD, following her 30-year career in corporate marketing. Marjorie was a pioneer in digital and social media marketing at IBM from where she retired in 2013.

Marjorie believes that to address the 80% autism unemployment rate we need to better prepare our teens and young adults for the workforce through intensive and immersive employment skills education. It’s not about teaching tasks, it’s about teaching problem solving.

She realized that a whole curriculum needed to be developed to teach both business skills as well as workplace social behaviors and emotional regulation. This required a partnership between professionals who have business expertise and autism counseling expertise. Sheri Baron, PHD and Pat Rowan, LMSW, joined Yes She Can early in the process and have been volunteering as job coaches and curriculum developers.

Why did you feel that starting Yes She Can was the answer?

People with autism learn best when they are fully engaged and not experiencing stress. So Marjorie took her daughter’s passion, American Girl dolls, and created a work environment that brings together Isabelle’s expertise with the opportunity to learn practical job skills that are transferable to other work places. With a market demand for second hand American Girl merchandise and a supply of product whose owners are looking for a place to donate their collections, the Girl AGain boutique was born.

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In February 2014 Girl AGain boutique opened, selling gently used American Girl dolls, and their outfits, furniture and accessories as well as book. Our customers are girls and women, and some boys who love these dolls and want to purchase them at prices they can afford. Some of our customers are collectors and delight in finding rare items at our store in White Plains, NY (a suburb of New York City).

Who do you serve?

Yes She Can serves young women between 17 and 27 who have a diagnosis of ASD or a related social and learning disability. They all have a desire to join the competitive workforce and want to develop their skills but know they need direct immersive learning experiences in a safe environment to develop those skills. Some trainees are in high school and are working toward a New York Start career readiness credential, others are enrolled in local colleges, and others have completed academic programs but have not found employment. With 80% of adults with ASD unemployed, we know that intellectual ability is not the primary factor in this crisis; it is social cognition and emotional regulation.

Girl AGain functions as the training venue where trainees work on all aspects of running the store. We receive donated dolls and accessories from American Girl collectors from all over the country. Our trainees prepare the merchandise for sale: they clean the dolls and accessories, make sure that all the parts of an outfit are put together as the original offering, price and display the merchandise, and conduct sales transactions. While undertaking these tasks, trainees are learning how to conduct research, make assessments of quality, make recommendations for sales prices, and enter data into the inventory spreadsheet. Because they are preparing the merchandise for 8 year old girls, they need to learn how to take the perspective of our customers.

The business processes require trainees to learning how to problem solve, make decisions, ask peers for help, seek support from supervisors, accept critical feedback, shift attention from one assignment to another, deal with the unexpected, take initiative, and communicate with customers.

For individuals with autism these responsibilities can result in misunderstanding, frustration and anxiety, so we teach our trainees how to work through the social and emotional challenges they face while working.

Our goal is for trainees to experience the work environment and develop skills that are required in the competitive workforce, to gain confidence, develop self-esteem, and greater independence.

What are 3 challenges you’ve faced?

Serving more women, and more intensely

  • Working with our trainees requires intensive immersive experiences with highly skilled staff with expertise in autism and it takes lots of time.  This is cannot be a volume operation.
  • Skilled job coaches are needed, and while we seek volunteers, we know we can only expand if we can hire professionals.
  • We do not have the funding yet to do this.

Employment opportunities

  • We would like to have more businesses that are open to hiring employees with autism that may need supports and accommodations.

Affordable space

  • Girl AGain needs to be in a retail location where moms and their 8-year-old daughters (and siblings in strollers) want to shop. That means prime retail space with good parking and public transit access.
  • We need to have a large enough space for our merchandise displays and storage, and we need to have our work space where trainees can prepare the merchandise and interact with customers.
  • Our retail sales cover our rent and utilities, but we really need a bigger space that we can afford, or a rent angel.

What are 3 rewards you’ve experienced from starting a business?

  1. We have served 26 young women so far and all of our trainees have demonstrated growth in their workplace social abilities, independence, and confidence. Each trainee has said the Yes She Can program has transformed her life. Some have found employment; others are continuing their education. And several are searching for a job.
  2. We have lots of fans supporting us: parents, women with autism and experts, including Dr. Brenda Smith Myles of OCALI, Dr. Fred Volkmar of Yale, Dr. Kevin Pelphery of George Washington U. and Autism Science Foundation President Alison Singer.
  3. We receive donated American Girl dolls and accessories from people all over the country including Hawaii, California, Florida and Maine. About half come from local girls and women who walk into the Girl AGain boutique with boxes and are delighted to see their donations at work.

Share a memorable moment!

“I never would have been able to get my job at the library if I had not gained the confidence and skills at Girl AGain.  They understand me.  I can be myself so I can learn.”  Cristina C., (Trainee and now both Girl AGain Associate and Library employee)

“I wish I could live here!.” Brianna B., Customer

What message do you have for families who are searching for job opportunities for their autistic loved one?

Every person has a right to reach her potential, and most of us need help to do that.  Women with autism need a specially designed intensive job skills program to help them reach their goals and it can’t be done quickly. Focus on skill development rather than teaching tasks.  Everyone can learn how to complete tasks, but it is learning to function in the workforce that is critical.

What can people do to help or get involved?

We are actively seeking new board members. Email us at [email protected] if you are interested and would like to find out more.

We are seeking funding to support and expand our program to serve more young women. We are also exploring creation of a software tool that will enable our trainees and their future employers to apply the support techniques we utilize at Girl AGain. PLEASE consider making a donation:

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How to find out more about Yes She Can and GirlAGain:

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.

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