Updated: Apr 6, 2022
On July 6, Urban Autism Solutions will welcome 25 One Summer Chicago student workers to its Growing Solutions Farm, a 1.2-acre urban farm located in the Illinois Medical District. This is the sixth year UAS has hosted students with autism and related challenges through the City of Chicago summer program which offers employment and internship opportunities to young adults ages 14 to 24.
Chicago Public Schools students from three West Side high schools (North Grand High School, Al Raby High School and the Ray Graham Training Center) will work at Growing Solutions Farm 20 hours a week for six weeks and will earn $14 per hour. Participants are paid by the City of Chicago.
“Young adults with autism face significant challenges when it comes to getting a job, and more than half remain unemployed in the two years after high school,” said Heather Tarczan, executive director of Urban Autism Solutions. “The One Summer Chicago program aligns perfectly with our core mission, which is to provide vocational opportunities to young adults with autism to prepare them for competitive employment. Having paid employment experience on their resumes really helps give them a leg up.”
Participants at the farm get experience growing, harvesting and packaging food for sale at the farm’s on-site farm stand while also gaining critical job-preparedness skills such as showing up to work on time and in uniform, following directions, working in small groups, behaving appropriately in the workplace and gradually building more independent skills.
“People with autism often have a hard time following complex instructions and can have issues when it comes to doing unfamiliar things,” said Tucker Kelly, lead grower at Growing Solutions Farm. “We work together with their teachers who are also at the farm to help support our students with a lot of repetition if needed as well as by breaking tasks down into manageable steps and using visual guides.”
“Harvesting produce, learning food safety and sanitation procedures and interacting with customers at the farm stand are all tasks the students will take on this summer,” explained Kelly. “This is a real job that goes on their resumes.”
Being outside in a safe, controlled environment, and enjoying the fresh air is another major benefit of working at the farm. Opportunities to engage in outdoor activities safely are extremely limited on the West Side of Chicago, which has some of the highest crime rates in the city. For young adults with autism, being around plants can also help reduce stress and anxiety, and touching plants and soil over and over again can help students overcome sensory issues that are often part of autism, such as oversensitivity to touch.
More than 95% of UAS’ One Summer Chicago participants are from households with incomes at or below the poverty level, and their families experience significant food insecurity. Students will take home a bag of fresh, nutritious produce each week. They will also help prepare food to supply to Grace Seeds Ministry. Growing Solutions Farm donates 20% of produce grown to the ministry which distributes it to food banks on the West Side.
“Supporting students in their journey to competitive employment is one of our key priorities,” said Tarczan. “We are unique because our One Summer program also focuses on the development of all the other ‘soft’ skills you need as an employee which can be particularly challenging for people with autism and related disabilities.”
ABOUT URBAN AUTISM SOLUTIONS: Urban Autism Solutions provides vocational, social, and residential programs that help individuals with autism navigate adulthood. We offer opportunities that help our participants develop social and soft skills, prepare for employment through interview training and job shadows, use public transportation and achieve their personal goals. With our team of experts, we empower our clients to become self-advocates and to live life with confidence. To date, Urban Autism Solutions has served more than 1,000 young adults with autism and related challenges through their programs.