At snack business, young people with autism find work and skills for the future
(LONG ISLAND CITY, N.Y.) -- Sam Antar was all smiles when he was offered a full-time, paid position as a "granologist" at Luv Michael, a healthy snack business.
"I like to put the ingredients together," Antar, 22, told ABC News. "I love making new friends."
Based in Long Island City, Luv Michael's mission is to provide meaningful employment for young adults with autism.
The business was started by Lisa Liberatore and husband, Dimitri Kessaris, for their son, Michael, who has autism and also loves to cook. Luv Michael now employs six workers and sells granola in more than 60 stores on the East Coast.
"Teamwork is pivotal in the Luv Michael program," said Sarah Kull, the company's curriculum coordinator. "We all motivate each other. We collaborate. We share ideas. Someone's having a hard day, we support them."
"There's no discouraging," she added.
Volunteers work for three consecutive weeks so staff can gauge their commitment, interest and skill set. After that period, and if all goes well, Luv Michael offers the volunteer a full-time, paid job.
"I can't begin to tell you the impression and the feeling that we have in the room when they're offered the job," Liberatore said.
Antar's mother, Deborah Ehrlich-Antar, was present as he accepted his job offer.
She told ABC News that her family was incredibly thankful for the work opportunity and that finding Luv Michael had been a "miracle."
"For any child with autism, after high school and after services from the Board of Education end, each child is in a very different place, a place where they're not quite sure what programs they're going to be involved in and what they're going to do every day," Ehrlich-Antar said. "It's extremely difficult and it's a time of uncertainty and great concern."
Ehrlich-Antar said Luv Michael's staff understand that people with autism need a place to thrive, be productive and feel good about what they're doing.
Antar told ABC News that after working at Luv Michael, he'd like to move on and become a chef.
"I'm learning a lot at Luv Michael," he said. "I love baking and cooking."
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