June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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Spectrum Designs Foundation: Creating a World That Only Sees Ability

Spectrum Designs, founded in 2011, is a business with a social mission: to create meaningful and inclusive employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum.

Founded by a trio of trailblazers, including two parents of aging children with autism, who wanted more for their sons and other children who faced similar adversities, Spectrum Designs Foundation became the umbrella to three separate enterprises: Spectrum Designs, custom apparel decorator and promotional products distributor; Spectrum Bakes, homemade granola, snacks and corporate gifting (the items are kosher); and Spectrum Suds, laundry and dry cleaning. Each enterprise creates opportunities for employment, empowerment and growth for those with autism and related developmental disabilities. When school-based programs end for those reaching age 21, Spectrum is there.

At Spectrum Designs Foundation, more than 50% of the workforce is composed of New Yorkers with disabilities—a group that faces an estimated 90% underemployment rate in America. As a nonprofit, 100% of the proceeds go towards furthering Spectrum’s mission. Since its inception in 2011, Spectrum has provided 100,000-plus hours of meaningful work for individuals, with total wages adding up to over $1.5 million.

Spectrum Designs has two locations. The flagship is in Port Washington, Long Island. The second location opened in December 2020 at 199 Tompkins Avenue, Pleasantville, New York in Westchester County, and is the apparel leg of SDF.

Josh Eagle is the operations manager for Spectrum Designs in the Pleasantville facility. He grew up in New Rochelle and attended The Frisch School/Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus for high school. Spectrum Designs does not sell clothing as a retailer per se, but clients order through them and they create the apparel and/or promotional items with the client’s company logo, etc.

“What initially drew me to Spectrum Designs was their incredible mission,” said Eagle. “As a Modern Orthodox Jew, I have always been taught the value of chesed. From an early age I was heavily involved with the special needs community. After experiencing my first Yachad shabbaton, I never looked back. My involvement continued into my formative high school years at Frisch, where I was an active member in Friendship Circle of Bergen County and various Yachad summer programs. My passion and involvement in the special needs community, combined with my desire to pursue a career in operations, made Spectrum Designs a no-brainer for me.”

Spectrum Designs’ commitment to its mission, along with the quality of its products, has led to incredible partnerships. Since opening in December of 2020, the Pleasantville location has done print work for the Metro-North Railroad, Google, J. Crew, J.P. Morgan Chase, Northwell Health, among others. Furthermore, they are the official licensed merchandise partner of New York State Parks.

Spectrum Designs and all of the Spectrum enterprises are dedicated to changing the future of individuals with special needs. Every dollar of every donation they receive helps expand their facilities, providing new equipment, increasing production capacity and creating more opportunities for more people of varying abilities. They are all about the economic and societal benefits of employing people on the autism spectrum.

As challenging a year as 2020 was, SDF took their reach to new heights, partnering with The Nicholas Center. The partnership welcomed 11 graduates from their first screen print certification course, and created seven new jobs for individuals on the autism spectrum, expanding their neurodiverse workforce to 51 people by the year’s end.

Their next round of training began in mid-September and has expanded to all businesses. Fourteen team members across Spectrum’s diverse divisions will be granted certifications in the following disciplines: washroom technician, screen printer and food handler, thanks to a New York State Workforce Development Initiative grant.

The SDF partnership with The Nicholas Center ensures that all staff have the support of educational specialists who can help with behavioral and personal goals, while aiding in the development of real world job skills. To date, SDF’s employee count is at 59, with 34 individuals on the autism spectrum.

Susan Gernhart, director of marketing and development for Spectrum Designs Foundation, said: “This untapped pool of talent brings so much to a workplace. People of varying abilities often possess an array of skills and qualities that can benefit any company, regardless of industry or size. In addition to earning a paycheck and increasing their sense of independence, having a job encourages friendships, peer-to-peer communication and social interaction.”

Speaking to the value that Spectrum has created in the workplace for people with disabilities, Gernhart added, “At Spectrum, we are proud to have created a kinder, more patient, understanding and open-minded workplace where everyone feels included, involved and accepted.”

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). NDEAM is held each October to commemorate the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy. The theme for NDEAM 2021 is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” But for Spectrum, every day of every month is dedicated to National Disability Employment Awareness.

As Eagle said, “I feel extremely lucky that I get to make a direct impact on bettering the lives of so many individuals who otherwise may have been overlooked.”

For more information about Spectrum Designs and Spectrum Designs Foundation, please see their website: spectrumdesigns.org.

Susan R. Eisenstein is a longtime Jewish educator, passionate about creating special, innovative activities for her students. She is also passionate about writing about Jewish topics and about Israel. Susan has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.

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