April is National Autism Awareness Month. To celebrate and bring awareness throughout the month, we will be highlighting positive stories we love about people with autism, as well as the stories of their friends and families.
Last March, two teachers-turned-entrepreneurs, Angie Gamades and Kyle Gallus, opened a bakery that's unlike any other. Finley's Barkery, which sells concoctions and treats for dogs, employs people with autism.
"The reality is there is an incredibly talented group of people, that when given the right opportunity, can be a tremendous asset to any business," the couple told A Plus via email. "Understanding this, we were motivated to create a business that invested in people of all abilities."
As it says on the Minnesota-based company's Instagram, the bakery is helping people on the autism spectrum realize their potential by providing them with opportunities.
"Empowering people to do what they love, one dog treat at a time. Unleashing potential in us."
Finley's Barkery trains its workers to make handmade dog biscuits inspired by recipes the owners give to their own mini German Shepherd, Finley. As the company says on its website, "Finley's Barkery provides a fun, supportive and challenging work environment for our team to thrive."
Plus they invest a portion of their profits "in initiatives meant to elevate the lives of Finley's team members and partners in the community (both 2 and 4 legged)."
"Having over 20 years of experience working with individuals with autism and other intellectual disabilities, we knew their capabilities are often underutilized, or misunderstood in a work or business setting," the Barkery founders told A Plus. "We believe everyone has strengths that allow them to be successful, when give the responsibility and opportunity. We wanted to look at it from the perspective of how do their strengths propel a business versus evoking sympathy for what some see as a disadvantage."
"What others saw as a disadvantage, we saw as an opportunity to build a team and a successful business around their skills."
"Eighty to 90 percent of adults with Autism, and other developmental disabilities, are unemployed or underemployed," it says on their website. "Finley’s Barkery set out to change that statistic."
On working with Gallus, Gamades explained, "We have fun together! We love what we do! What's most important in any business, is finding the positive and bringing that to the team. Making sure we create an environment our team enjoys and loves."
The couple also states that running Finely's Barkery together has "absolutely" helped their relationship. "We have learned how to lean on each other when times are stressful and to celebrate when good things happen. Starting a business from the beginning is tough emotionally, financially, and physically. It takes dedication, no sleep, and the desire to keep going to pursue a dream and purpose."
And their hard work has paid off on all fronts because people are loving the bakery's products as well as their important mission. One Facebook commenter said, "I wish that more companies would hire people who are on the autism spectrum, particularly those who have Asperger's. The need is great! My gratitude to this company for employing people on the spectrum!"
Fortunately the bakery isn't the only company set to help people with autism. In 2015, we wrote about Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Florida — a car wash with the majority of its employees on the autism spectrum.
CEO John D'Eri was inspired to create Rising Tide Car Wash thanks to his son, Andrew, who is also on the autism spectrum. "I don't want him [Andrew] to sit in a room, taken care of by others once I'm gone," said D'Eri in a video about the business. "I want him to have a job. I want him to have friends that are like him, so this car wash creates an answer for Andrew ..."
Hopefully more businesses like Finley's Barkery and Riding Tide Car Wash will arise to help those with autism find employment and have all the opportunities they deserve.
"[We hope people] understand how lucky we are to live in a world where we can all contribute to something greater," Gallus and Gamades said. "Happiness is a choice, and we can make positivity louder by taking action versus waiting for the perfect situation or moment to chase a dream."