TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Small businesses across Tampa Bay are partnering with the University of South Florida to become more autism-friendly. Not just when it comes to serving customers with autism, but hiring them through a special internship program.

“All of the students internships are in careers they think they might be interested in when they leave,” said Susan Richmond, who heads The Learning Academy at the University of South Florida.

The Academy is a customized transition program that prepares young adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder for employment.

Kaleisa Tea Lounge on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa was one of the first to get on board with the idea of hiring interns from the program, and owner Kim Pham points to her current intern as one of the many examples of how successful her hires have been.

“He is great.  Really hard working, really funny, and he fits in really well with everyone on staff.  You can’t even tell he’s an intern. Right away he rolls with the punches. When we get really busy he runs around hectic, and really pitches in, working so hard,  we appreciate that,” Pham said.

Pham is referring to her new intern, Sean Wood, who has engrossed himself in her Tea Lounge, learning everything about teas from around the world, and the healthy fare served on the menu.  Wood says the best part of the job is interacting with people. “I just enjoy working with people.”, he said.

“I just enjoy working with people,” he said.

C.A.R.D. is a free resource that is offered in 14 counties.  The program not only helps adults with Autism but also families and children. There is also a joint effort to work with businesses across the Tampa Bay area, which is expanding with more than a dozen already offering internships.

C.A.R.D. is holding a family-friendly event in Ybor City, the 11th Annual Fiesta By The Bay, Friday, April 22. The doors open at 6 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend. You can learn more about it here.WHAT OTHERS ARE CLICKING ON RIGHT NOW: