Creating Employment, Empowerment and Growth for Autistic Adults During COVID-19

a guest blog post by Lee Anne Vetrone, Development Manager, Spectrum Designs Foundation

Six or so weeks ago, when the Covid-19 crisis ramped up and effectively halted life as we know it, the team at Spectrum Designs Foundation was on schedule to break previous sales records, offer more individuals with Autism paid employment opportunities and open the doors to our anticipated new location in Westchester County, NY. Immediately, thoughts shifted to the safety of our staff, then to sustaining our non-profit businesses -custom apparel, gourmet granola and a boutique laundry. When New York State ordered all non-essential businesses put on PAUSE in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, two of our three businesses were deemed essential – Spectrum Bakes and Spectrum Suds, while the Spectrum Designs’ production shop was shuttered. Our staff, 75% of whom are on the spectrum, were sent home and focus turned to providing remote learning opportunities and daily calls to stay in touch. But, what of the business? Spectrum Bakes and Spectrum Suds remained open operating with a neuro-diverse crew of 2-6 individuals.

Once staff was set-up with scheduled online training and remote work schedules, we pulled together the team to brainstorm next steps, as has always been the norm for our game-changing non-profit. With the larger of our enterprises, Spectrum Designs, closed during the pandemic –how do our still growing enterprises – granola and laundry – rise to the occasion – stay afloat, keep on mission and be of service?

Keeping in mind, limited resources and staff – we created two campaigns for our enterprises that have turned out to be game-changers. Spectrum Bakes created the Snack-in-Place gift box -as a way for people to stay connected to colleagues, friends and families near and far. The boxes have been a hit and have shipped all over the U.S. to much cheer! As a way to give back to a community that has given us much, Spectrum Suds created the “Free laundry for 1st responders and healthcare professionals” initiative. Offering to take a “load” off – of laundry, that is to those sacrificing much for our safety.

Although, not able to fire up our machines to screen print and embroider custom apparel, we were able to tap into the promotional items end of our business and creatively pivot to procure desperately needed PPE – personal protective equipment – for front line and essential workers, businesses, municipalities and nonprofits. Working diligently, our team successfully sourced ethically priced, certified and vetted items, while ensuring a quick delivery for those in need. 

The success of these business “pivots” have meant the world to our organization – providing much needed income at an uncertain time, given us positive press-worthy stories to share with donors and the media and has secured a place for our staff to learn and work once we are given the go-ahead to come back to work!   

Spectrum Designs Foundation is a purpose-driven organization with an important mission – to help individuals with Autism lead full and productive lives through the world of work. As a non-profit, 100% of profits go to advance the mission. Via three separate social enterprises, Spectrum Designs, Spectrum Bakes, and Spectrum Suds, opportunities are created for employment, empowerment and growth.  To learn more please visit