Nationally, an estimated 50,000 young people with autism spectrum disorder are turning 18 each year and roughly 90% of those will be unemployed. This has inspired one local organization to seek a location and funding to expand their proven training program. The Artistas Center will be able to develop the necessary independence and employment skills for these young adults right here in the Tampa Bay area.
Westra opened Artistas Café in 2011, a first of its kind business where a front line team of employees are graduates of her unique training program and whom all have been diagnosed with autism. Because of the success of the Artistas Cafe and educational program, Westra’s vision has gone further with the goal of establishing the Artistas Development Center. This facility will provide job skills training and internships in a safe environment to assist individuals at all levels of the Autism Spectrum to develop and their own unique abilities. In addition, this Development Center plans to educate families touched by autism to understand how to bring out the best in their children and teach local businesses wanting to integrate them into the many industries recognizing how valuable some of their skills are for increasing profits and reducing costs.
On May 17th and 18th, AARP sponsored the Tampa Bay Caregiver Accelerator conference and pitch competition in St. Petersburg. The Caregiver Accelerator program was created for companies serving seniors, veterans and people with disabilities to present their unique ideas for consideration and support.
Six companies out of the twenty that went through the nine week Caregiver Accelerator program were selected to present their business model to a panel of expert judges. Artistas/Art for Autism was selected as the winner of the “People’s Choice Award” for their vision of creating the Artistas Development Center and the first Autism Ready Community.
Artistas is in the process of researching high walking traffic locations here in Tampa Bay to establish this first of it’s kind Development Center for Autism.