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Extraordinary Strides for Adults with Disabilities in the Workforce

By Kelly Church

Extraordinary Ventures is a Chapel Hill, NC organization with a unique purpose: to provide support and employment opportunities to adults with autism and developmental disabilities. Founded in 2007 with support from local parents of children with autism, the group was developed to provide a solution to a problem:

Growing up, students in the school system who have developmental disabilities are provided support. However, "when young adults with autism or other developmental disabilities leave high school, they often face a grim reality of limited resources and a lack of meaningful opportunities," explains Extraordinary Ventures Managing Director Paige Morrow. "Many go unemployed, lose vital skills, and their morale and well-being decline. When someone is given the opportunity to work and contribute to society, it gives them more than just a paycheck. It provides them a sense of identity, builds new skills, instills confidence and adds meaning to their day."

There are a lot of options at Extraordinary Ventures. Employees participate in event set up, laundry service and delivery, data entry, packaging, mailing, dog walking, cat sitting, city bus clean up, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill football parking.

"There are plenty of alternatives to employment that are beneficial, for example sports, volunteer work and social activities, but getting paid to do a job that you enjoy and where you know you are providing value is an opportunity that every person deserves," Morrow says.

To help their employees succeed, Extraordinary Ventures utilizes visuals in all of their businesses. Measures such as visual instructions are part of their effort to make jobs more understandable and break them down to simpler tasks that make up their larger job.

"Adjustments like those are built into our business model to help make our employees and ventures successful, but those same supports would benefit any person, not just those with disabilities," Morrow says. "Working with people with disabilities is not all that different than working with people that don't. Every person is unique, each learning and thinking differently than the next, and different people need different types of accommodations."

Morrow says Extraordinary Ventures has received an immense amount of support from the community, through both volunteers and monetary donations. However, she insists the biggest way of supporting the company is by doing business with them, which she says is a big testament to each employee's value.

"We have more than 50 employees who are all amazing and incredibly dedicated to their jobs, we have the most fun and energetic work environment you can imagine, and we get an opportunity to make a difference in so many lives every single day," Morrow says. "What's not to love?"

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