Have Dreams promotes employment for those with autism

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- An autism resource organization called Have Dreams is teaming up with local businesses to help young adults learn critical job skills and create a pathway to employment.

It may look like your neighborhood Walgreens, but these items are not for sale. This is a mock store, set up as part of a workplace training program called Have Dreams Academy. It's inside the autism resource organization called Have Dreams in Evanston. Walgreens has agreed to hire some program graduates.

"It's my first official job," said Lucy Schomisch, a graduate of Have Dreams Academy. "So it's a huge accomplishment for me and I've been really proud of it."

Walgreens is not the only company being courted. Have Dreams is trying to develop a roster of employers.

"We don't want anyone to be hindered by the label of autism," said Kris Johnsen, executive director of Have Dreams. "We want people to see the potential and the benefits of having an employee with autism."

A local commercial bakery owner has already hired two program graduates and sees big benefits.

"They are really great at repetitive work. They are really, really terrific employees," said Jean Kroll, owner of ILOVESWEETS Bakery. "They show up for work every day. They're on time. They're enthusiastic about work. They are thorough."

"I'm glad that Have Dreams was able to like get me working and it taught me a lot of hands-on skills, like how to be good at a job," said Andy Koenigs, a graduate of Have Dreams Academy.

In addition to tasks ranging from packaging products, labeling boxes and measuring the baking ingredients, the program helps students increase their social and communication skills and cope with challenges in the workplace.

"I'll let you in on a little secret. I prefer working alone, but when Andy's here I have to live with it. Yeah. Don't tell anyone," said Andrew McDonugh, a graduate of Have Dreams Academy, with a laugh.

One of the ILOVESWEETS bakery's signature products is a tin of shortbread cookies. Thirty-three percent of each sale goes to support the program. For more information, visit:

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