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SAAAC Autism Centre: EKO’s newest member creates ‘ripple of giving’ with their social enterprise

December 13, 2023

Empowered Kids Ontario-Avenir Enfants Ontario (EKO) is thrilled to welcome the SAAAC Autism Centre (SAAAC) as it’s newest General Member! Led by a multi-disciplinary team of clinical supervisors, social workers, instructional therapists, artists and others, SAAAC provides a suite of services that serve critical milestones in an individual’s life.

In 2018, the centre launched a social enterprise designed to reduce unemployment among neurodiverse communities. Goodness Gift was borne from a motivation to address the lack of sustainable employment opportunities for neurodiverse young adults, and to maintain inclusive and accommodating environments within which these young adults can foster their talents and collaborate with their peers.

The social enterprise began by hiring part-time associates—former SAAAC clients and other neurodiverse individuals affiliated with various organizations in and around Scarborough, Ontario—to work in the fulfillment centre, creating the gift boxes that were sold and shipped around the holidays. After securing an instrumental investment in June 2023, SAAAC decided to expand Goodness Gift to include more leadership and grow their associates from 45 to 230 by 2026.

“Not only are our associates learning through various training programs to develop their skills, but we are constantly learning from them,” says Sue Nathan, Director of Business Development at Goodness Gift. “Our associates started in fulfillment, but they showed interest in other areas of the enterprise, and we learned how to incorporate their diverse talents into Goodness Gift and its products.”

Sue recounts stories of associates expressing their interests in physical and digital art, copy editing, customer service and more. Goodness Gift took these opportunities to expand their operations to include their associates in nearly all aspects of the social enterprise. Now, associates are involved in designing and creating artwork for items included in their gift boxes, hosting tables at various events, and website content including articles and photography. She says their long-term succession plan will see folks from neurodiverse communities trained and running the leadership team at Goodness Gift.

The gift boxes and gift items available on their website are all meticulously curated by the social enterprise to support Canadian businesses that are socially conscious, eco-friendly, sustainable and that give back to their local communities in some way. This season’s Across Canada Box was a favourite to curate; “travelling” across the country to find province-based items from Wild Smoked Sockeye Salmon from the far west of British Columbia to Cow Chips from Prince Edward Island.

All the items found within their gift boxes contribute to Goodness Gift’s “ripple effect of giving,” whereby acts of giving are present at every level: the gift of the box, the contribution to employment for neurodiverse young adults, the talents provided by associates, and the businesses behind the items that give back to countless communities.

Goodness Gift also supports young adults with ASD in their careers outside of the social enterprise. Their coveted candle collection is created through an entrepreneurial program; Goodness Gift ships all materials to the homes of their entrepreneurs who craft and hand-pour the candles, and sell them back to Goodness Gift where they are branded with associate-created art of the entrepreneur. This program began in tandem with the pandemic and growing knowledge of accommodation for entrepreneurs who prefer to work from home. The social enterprise also partners with local businesses to train (both the young adults and their employers), and place young adults in various types of employment based on their skills and interests.

While their operations are predominantly in Scarborough, Ontario, Goodness Gift is excited about the possibility of establishing new partnerships and expanding their entrepreneurial program to employ folks from neurodiverse communities across the province.

“Our main mission is to reduce unemployment among neurodiverse communities,” says Sue Nathan. “And through that work, we can impact so many other communities in Scarborough, Ontario and the whole of Canada. It’s truly amazing.”

Want to add Goodness Gift to your holiday shopping ideas? Visit their store

About SAAAC

SAAAC’s vision is where all individuals with autism in Canada have equal access to comprehensive, culturally responsive, and high-quality services that support their full potential and improve their quality of life. Geetha Moorthy, founder and executive director, began the Centre by delivering free adapted dance programs for youth on the autism spectrum from the basement of her home. As years progressed, the Centre began adding additional services with the help of passionate volunteers, hardworking families, and dedicated autism professionals. Today, they are proud to serve more than 600 families and continue to grow their family of more than 150 volunteers.

About EKO

Empowered Kids Ontario-Enfants Avenir Ontario is a member association supporting evidence-based investments, policies and programs for kids with disabilities and their families. We care for and about kids with childhood disabilities, kids with developmental difference—cognitive, physical and communication—kids who are recovering from illness or injury, and kids with complex care needs including autism, cerebral palsy, FASD, Down syndrome and other neurodifferences.

EKO members come from across Ontario and provide diverse services programs and supports so kids with disabilities and their families can live their best lives. 

 

 

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