ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A St. Petersburg nonprofit working with adults with autism is using sustainability as a means to help train them for jobs and gain meaningful employment.
Earth to Autism, founded in 2017, offers both in-person and online support to adults with autism looking for jobs.
“Earth to Autism is really all about developing inclusive and green workspaces. So it takes the element of wanting to equip and train adults with autism with skills to help secure employment opportunities as well as focusing on sustainability and the environmental component as well,” explained Aron Bryce, the organization’s chairman of the board of directors. “So it really is a wonderful blend of two really great ideas.”
Bryce said a previous program they have done in the past is the “Repair Café” workshop. He said it’s the first of its kind in Florida.
“We actually train them to repair household items, whether it’s small electronic devices or bicycles or something like that. And then those individuals are then able to go out into the community and offer those services, sometimes, very often for free, to the community members with the skills that they learned through that workshop,” Bryce explained.
He said Repair Cafés are an example of how Earth to Autism uses its component of focusing on inclusive, green workspaces.
Earth to Autism also has an ambassador program where they connect adults with autism to members of the St. Petersburg community, so folks can continue to build on their own learning experiences and skill sets and to feel more comfortable heading in to the work force.
“It is a very difficult space to be in when you’re an adult with autism and you’re trying to find that job. So these programs that we offer really do offer them the opportunity to really become more comfortable in that space and work towards securing full time employment, ideally,” Bryce said.
Community to the “small, but might” Earth to Autism team in the St. Petersburg community has been positive. Bryce said he believes the more people that learn about their mission, the more confident is that Earth to Autism will be able to expand their programming and offerings to the community.
Even the small amount of things they are able to do now means so much to those in the community with autism, Bryce said.
“To see the smile on the face or to see the individual walk away feeling so confident and really, better about themselves and their path forward in their own life, I mean that is a priceless commodity in my opinion.”
Some of those things Earth to Autism is currently doing include a beach cleanup at Walter Fuller Park this weekend, in partnership with Keep Pinellas Beautiful and the St. Petersburg Parks & Recreation Department. Anyone who wants to volunteer is welcome to attend from 10 a.m. to noon. Supplies will be provided.
“What it is is a beautiful blend and a beautiful aggregation of all these individuals who are passionate about sustainability and we’re passionate about our environment locally, who want to do something about it,” Bryce said. “So this park cleanup presents this opportunity to reach out in the community, find those individuals and give them that chance to do something, to make a difference in their own town.”
Also this weekend, Earth to Autism is hosting a speaker at LiFT Academy, a school for neurodivergent students. Speaker Eric Zimmerman, who has autism will be speaking.
“…he speaks to those audiences with neurodiversities and autism about his own journey and how he went from his own struggle to being able to find his full-time job,” said Bryce. “He’s now married. He does some part-time race car driving, if you can believe it. So he has a very exciting and very cool story that connects with people on a very deep level. So we’re having him speak to Lift Academy, which is a school that specials with students with neurodiversity’s this weekend.”
Bryce said his biggest takeaway from working with Earth to Autism is from the people he interacts with who either have autism, have family or friends with autism, or who simply connect with the community.
“Those types of people are some of the most genuine, understanding and passionate people you will ever meet. And they way they think about things, the way they problem solve, the way they go about, just the way they see the world, really, is a truly unique perspective that in my own experience, has informed my insight and informed my own decision making both as a chair of the board of directors and simply as a person,” he said.