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Marianna, FL 32448

NextStep To Success!

NextStep Participants Gain Competitive Employment, Complete Pilot Program

Individuals with Autism Thriving with Employment, Communication and Social Goals

Marianna, Florida (April 18, 2022) — All six NextStep at Endeavor Academy participants are competitively employed in positions earning equal payment in jobs that will continue beyond their recently completed 12-week pilot program.

Participants, ages 21-27, worked for a variety of employers including two at Catalyst Fabric Solutions in Marianna, assisting with web-to-textile fulfillment manufacturing, and another at Hands and Hearts for Horses, a premier accredited therapeutic horseback riding center in Georgia. Two had never held a job before.

NextStep is being launched by Jackson County Board of County Commissioners along with Endeavor Forward, Inc., a nonprofit organization. NextStep at Endeavor Academy is part of the 1200-acre Endeavor Park mixed-use development at the site of the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. NextStep’s pilot program ran from late January to April while the site is under construction. 

“NextStep at Endeavor Academy is offering high caliber services to our local community, allowing families to avoid traveling far for these unparalleled autism services,” said Wilanne Daniels, Jackson County administrator. “NextStep is putting Marianna on the map locally, regionally and nationally. At the same time, we hope NextStep helps to attract new employers that need dedicated workers and supports existing businesses with growth plans.”

The participants at Catalyst began working there one day a week and increased their workload to two days a week as they exceeded expectations. The participants inspect suits for tears and hanging threads, make cardboard boxes and turn boots inside out.

Kyle Todd, 23, didn’t do much after graduating from Blountstown High School in 2016 but wanted a purpose and to attend college, like his siblings.

“NextStep at Endeavor Academy has shown our family Kyle’s potential and that he can do things we never knew he could. He is making a contribution to society and he is loving it,” said his mother, Kelly Todd. “Being from a small, rural community, we don’t have much access to services. NextStep has opened a new world for Kyle where he is thriving.”

Now Kyle shows initiative in arranging transportation, pays for some of his own expenses, manages his own cell phone, and understands he is part of an integral team at his first job, Catalyst, where he turns boots inside out and prepares them to be shipped and makes boxes. His goal is to always finish more boots than his previous shift. Now that the pilot program is over, he wants to continue working at Catalyst.

And Catalyst values Kyle and another participant, Ben Alvarez, said Jim King, Catalyst operations manager and Endeavor Forward board member. Kyle and Ben have quickly learned the skills needed to succeed in the job, demonstrated high attention to detail and expressed a desire for more autonomy in their jobs, King said.

“Staff shortages post-Covid are very real. If I have employees like Kyle and Ben, who want to work, then I can really start growing a stable workforce,” King said.

Catalyst completed Florida State University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) Autism-Friendly Business Initiative training in late 2021. In addition, NextStep provides the businesses with training to work with the participants.

“It is completely easy and seamless,” King said. “The participants make us feel more human and remind us to not take life for granted. I have been blown away at how my staff has welcomed the participants and we look forward to more students.”

NextStep is coaching the participants to maintain and improve their employment and assisting them with specific goals such as pursuing full-time employment and applying for other jobs.

Goals are individualized for each participant, such as arranging meetings and a job shadowing opportunity for a participant who wants to be an accountant with an autistic person in that field.

Participants also took classes as part of the Learn4Independence curriculum about employment and making connections. Two took in-person classes in Marianna and the others, some of whom live in Tallahassee and needed less support, took virtual classes. Other accomplishments:

  • They engaged in a volunteer activity with Backpacks for Kids and packed 325 backpacks full of food for children experiencing food insecurity during Spring Break.
  • Four of the participants who do not drive and did not know how to use public transportation can now schedule public transportation themselves.
  • Participants are spontaneously greeting each other and asking each other about their weekend. NextStep trained the participants on “soft skills,” such as thinking of others and being team players. The two participants who took in-person classes gave presentations on the importance of soft skills at their workplaces.
  • The participants who attended virtual classes decided on their own to meet for lunch on the weekends.
  • The employers are undergoing training to encourage autonomy and independence for the participants’ work environments. NextStep encourages the businesses to allow the individuals the opportunity to make mistakes and their own choices.
  • Parents engaged in monthly seminars to assist their adult children in greater independence. One mother mentioned she never thought she would see her son go off to work.

“The participants made meaningful gains in ways that will help them find even more autonomy,” said NextStep’s Director Tammy Dasher. “I’m most excited by the participants’ spontaneous desires to connect with each other and stretch their skills at independence on their own. I am so proud of their accomplishments, especially in such a short amount of time.”

Interested NextStep program applicants, families, and employers should email info@NextStepatEndeavor.org or call (850) 633-7146.

About NextStep at Endeavor Academy

NextStep at Endeavor Academy is being launched by Jackson County Board of County Commissioners along with Endeavor Forward, Inc., a Florida-based not-for-profit which supports the development and operations of an autism transition, employment, and residential program as part of an inclusive community where the benefits of educating and employing individuals with autism are broadly understood, supported, and valued. NextStep at Endeavor Academy will prepare individuals with autism for transition beyond secondary school by providing instruction in employment and independent living skills. Future phases include residential living opportunities and community-wide engagement. Visit www.nextstepatendeavor.org.

Ben Alvarez enjoys his job at Catalyst Fabric Solutions in Marianna, assisting with web-to-textile fulfillment manufacturing. 

Alvarez and another NextStep at Endeavor Academy participant are key to Catalyst creating a stable workforce.
Photo Credit: Abby Hallett

John Howard Baldino, a participant in NextStep at Endeavor Academy’s pilot program, is competitively employed at Hands and Hearts for Horses in Georgia. All six pilot program participants are working in positions that will continue beyond the recently completed pilot program. 

Photo Credit: Abby Hallett

Kyle Todd didn’t do much after graduating from Blountstown High School in 2016. Now, after completing the NextStep at Endeavor Academy program, Kyle is thriving, and loving his job at Catalyst Fabric Solutions. 

Photo Credit: Abby Hallett

(L to R), Jim King, Kyle Todd and Kyle Todd at Catalyst. King says Todd and Alvarez have quickly learned the skills needed to succeed in the job, demonstrated high attention to detail and expressed a desire for more autonomy in their jobs. 
Photo Credit: Abby Hallett