One of Jonah Zimiles' favorite e-mails came from a Listserv for parents of children with autism. It was from a mother whose autistic daughter had started working at Zimiles' Maplewood, N.J.-based bookstore, Words, which employs people who have the condition. "[My daughter] called me yesterday to tell me all about getting handed her first real paycheck. ‘I'm like … really normal now, Mom!' There have been few other times when she's been that proud of herself," the mom wrote.
Since being featured in our May 2010 issue, the indie bookseller has continued to grow, providing a welcoming environment for families of special-needs children. The shop has employed more than 25 people with autism during that time, and has added new opportunities to help them build skills. Zimiles has also launched "Second Sundays," which offers free hobby sampling--including karate, cooking and art--to special-needs families.
Next up: Zimiles is pondering requests he has received to expand to other towns, something he'll do, he says, "if the right opportunity comes along."
Got technology? In the Tampa, Fla., area, many more underprivileged people do, thanks to the efforts of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum (TBTF). Featured in our February 2011 issue, the organization has supplied 235 workstations to area Boys and Girls Clubs (BGC) and five to Metropolitan Ministries, a faith-based organization that serves the homeless population.
TBTF's Adopt-a-Club is a new effort that works to engage local companies to become actively involved with BGC. So far, three companies have been matched with branches of the nonprofit, working to provide local children with greater access to technology and mentorship. One of the young women involved with BGC is now an intern at Tribridge, a Tampa IT firm founded by Tony DiBenedetto, who is a founding member of TBTF.
"Many of the youth who are involved in programming supported by the foundation are getting to know us even more and know that we are a resource for them," DiBenedetto says. "Believe me, they have confidence and know how to ask for help and, more importantly, guidance."
A Fresh Coat
For families facing hardship, it can seem impossible to find the time or resources for upkeep such as painting the house. Enter Matt Shoup. Featured in our August 2010 issue, the founder of Loveland, Colo.-based M&E Painting began taking applications for free house-painting jobs after hearing about a customer's sudden death, which left him wanting to help the man's widow. Since starting the program in 2009, M&E has painted seven houses for those in need.
In 2011, the 45-employee company revamped its review process.
"I don't think anybody was taking advantage of the program, but I feel any organization doing something like this needs to have structure and guidelines," Shoup says. M&E's eighth project is about to be chosen, and Shoup expects the company to complete several more in 2012.