Artistas Cafe offers employment opportunities for young adults with autism

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - For the first time in Brian Martin's life, he's engaging in customer service.

"I like to get people excited about things that we have coming up," he said.

At, 24, this is the first-ever job for the aspiring barista, as one of the all-autistic workforce in place at Artistas Cafe , a coffee bar and lunch spot located within the friendly confines of the huge Jabil Circuit complex in St. Petersburg.

"Our first day was May 20," he recalled, with his typical pinpoint accuracy.  "This is our 10th week being open."

But for founder Vicky Westra, it's been a long time in coming.
 
"It's serving people with autism through employment opportunities," she explained, bottom-lining the mission of the cafe.

The former Tampa Electric Executive would know how important that is.  As her daughter was diagnosed with Autism at age four, she quickly learned that most programming for such kids pretty much stops when they age out of high school.

"You get very aware of the number of kids that don't have a future," added Joe McGee, the Executive VP of Strategic Planning and Development at Jabil, and he figured that this cafe would be a good fit.

"I have an autistic son," said McGee, "and I volunteer with a couple of charities so I became aware of Vicky."

And then he became aware of her program, and how it gives the kids a reason to get up in the morning.  

"The first job you've ever had in your life," was something I discussed at length with Tim Addison.   He said, "My life is to be a very good employee and to do something good for everyone."

And this could be good everywhere.  That's why Vicky is already figuring how to franchise the Artistas idea to companies all over.

"And we've got the opportunity now to really take this, very broadly, worldwide." she said. "Because autism is a global diagnosis."  One with some serious local support.

Find out more about Artistas Cafe at  http://www.artistascafe.com/ .

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