Meristem

Meristem is a day and independent living skills program that develops practical life skills, social capacities, and transition to work for young adults aged 18-29 with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders that can cause developmental problems in the areas of social interaction, speech, language, communication, and behavioral functions. ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S. In California alone, the incidence of ASD has increased 12-fold in the past two decades, with the ASD population increasing by an average of 12% per year. It is estimated that there will be a 300% increase in the number of young adults with ASD needing vocational training services by 2020, with continued increases thereafter as these young adults continue to "age out" of the education system.

The Journal of American Academy and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimated that 90% of young adults with autism were unemployed or underemployed. The report noted that, compared to other young adults with disabilities, people with autism are often unemployed until late in their twenties and have the lowest rates of employment at just 58%. Even when employed, a young adult with autism has an average pay of only $8.00 an hour.

The growing demand for programs here in the United States that focus on young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental differences has reached a critical level. In response to this critical need, Meristem opened the Sacramento campus in 2014 on a 13-acre site in Fair Oaks. Our model originates from the Ruskin Mill Trust that has decades of experience developing and scaling curriculum and programs for young adults with ASD throughout England, helping thousands of students develop independent living skills, establish friendships and participate in meaningful work experience in inclusive communities. This proven method allows students to gain a positive view of themselves, which translates to the ability to contribute more fully to society and transition to work or higher education.

Meristem's mission is to prepare young adults on the autism spectrum to build a strong sense of self, develop an enhanced social capacity, and create a life of increased social and economic independence. Our vision is a world where the unique capabilities of adults on the spectrum are respected and appreciated.

We provide this foundation by optimizing the capacity for our students, allowing them to realize their full potential. Our program targets young adults from 18-30 years of age with Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), promoting independence by developing life skills, social capacities, and transition to work. Because of the significant increase in the number of individuals diagnosed with ASD, there is a growing need for programs that provide these individuals with the knowledge and tools to enable them to fully engage in their communities, advocate on their own behalf and experience well-rounded success, while at the same time facilitating Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) and access to higher education.

The program begins with the fundamentals, such as cultivating a sense of responsibility around time and learning to select appropriate attire. Our students learn resiliency, consistency and other attributes needed to self-manage. They develop social skills through active listening, following directions and working with others. In focused workshops, students learn the finer points of resume writing, researching work opportunities and practicing interviewing technique. Finally, our students undergo specific skill training, either in the classroom or in one of the social enterprises. Students are also supported in working part-time off-campus with businesses and nonprofits.

Mission

Meristem mission is to prepare young adults on the autism spectrum to build a strong sense of self, develop an enhanced social capacity, and create a life of increased social and economic independence. Our vision is a world where the unique capabilities of adults on the spectrum are respected and appreciated so that they can lead full and meaningful lives, with ample opportunities for mainstream employment and independent living.

Needs

Scholarship Need: Meristem is a high touch program that is individually tailored to each student. While there is some government funding available to a percentage of our students, there remains a significant funding gap that needs to be filled so that students from all financial backgrounds can attend. Scholarships help to cover the funding gap between the program's cost and the Regional Center tuition subsidies some students receive. Increasing our ability to provide tuition assistance gives students from underserved families the ability to attend our three-year program.

On average there is a $53,000 annual funding gap for residential students and $28,650 annual funding gap for day students beyond what the Alta Regional Center subsidy covers. We are always looking for funding opportunities that will help to offset the student tuition funding shortfall so that we can continue to grow and diversify our campus and the students we serve through our program.

General organizational support: Currently in California there are no established career pathways and few vocational training programs to address employment barriers for those with ASD. Traditional apprenticeship, workforce training and internship programs do not meet the specialized needs of those with ASD. Their fixed structure and limited understanding of the nature of the disability make even moderately effective outcomes elusive. In order to bridge this gap, Meristem has taken the lead in creating an innovative and effective vision for vocational training utilizing a program that consists of part-time classroom curriculum and part-time work experiences.

We are now working to expand our current curriculum to accommodate a larger student population, enhance our existing vocational and work skills training programs and grow our outreach efforts so that we can place more students in community internships and further support our students' entry into the workforce. This grant funding would assist us in the expansion of our work experience program by:

* Broadening the offerings of the Meristem work skills program;

* Expanding outreach efforts and community partnerships so that we can offer more internship and job placements;

* Create and expand our innovative training pilot program designed to be a mechanism that provides employers with proper education, outreach, and training so that they can take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote, and retain individuals with ASD.

Expanding the Meristem program allows us to incorporate more students and offer a wider variety of hands on learning experiences while students prepare to enter the workforce or continue on to higher education, This in turn helps us create sustaining pathways to employment for individuals with ASD.

At this very moment, tens of thousands of young Californians with autism are unemployed. These young people are bright, capable, and willing to work, but it's difficult for them to connect with employers who know how to find, onboard, and retain them. The Transformative Autism Program (TAP) was designed to do just that. TAP helps California employers successfully hire and work with people with autism- and helps them become the valuable employees they have the potential to be. The program consists of in-person and online training and a summer internship program that partners with our local food bank partners. Support of this program allows our students to continue doing the volunteer work that they do feeding those who have been hit hardest by COVID-19. These volunteer efforts also provide real world work experience for our students.

Please contact info@meristem.pro if you or your organization are interested in volunteering or if you have volunteer opportunities available for our students.

Please contact info@meristem.pro if you are interested in learning more about joining our board.

Organization Data

Summary

Organization name

Meristem

Tax id (EIN)

47-1411177

Mission Category

Youth Development

Operating Budget

$1,000,001-$5 million

Organization Need

Board Members, Funding: Program, Funding: Unrestricted, Volunteers

Address

9200 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Fair Oaks, CA 95628

Phone

916-718-5036

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