Denise's Story

Finding Community, Opportunity, and Purpose

When my son, Nick, was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at two years old the doctor told me what he would never do; drive a car, graduate from high school, get married, hold a job.  The list went on and on.  Fueled and challenged by the doctor’s prognosis, this was the moment I decided to prove him wrong.  My son might not marry or drive a car, but there was no reason he could not and would not hold a job.  The doctor’s declaration that Nick would never be a contributing member of society inspired me to find what Nick was capable of doing.

Early on, I discovered that Nick had an incredible talent for detail.  I searched for ways to grow and encourage this special talent and was introduced to a master leather craftsman, Peter Main, when Nick was 14.  Peter apprenticed Nick and taught him how to hand stamp and hand stitch leather goods.  Peter was amazed not only at Nick’s interest in the work they were doing, but also in the quality of the work Nick produced.  Peter and I realized Nick was a talented artisan, and that nurturing this gift would create an avenue for Nick to perform meaningful work.

In 2011, Nick and I founded Aspire Accessories.  We began with one product in our portfolio; the double wrap hand-stamped, rivet bracelet.  Nick would set the rivets and stamp them and I would set the snaps.  Word spread, and Nick’s work began to get noticed. Soon after, we were approached by several organizations to create custom bracelets.

As I shared Nick and I’s story with other parents of young adults with ASD, several things became apparent:

  • This was more than just a mother and son endeavor and there were many parents who, like me, would not accept NEVER
  • The need to offer others an avenue to find purpose was paramount
  • I was passionate about helping this community succeed and I needed to grow Aspire Accessories to provide opportunities for others with ASD. 

Within a few months we had hired 4 artisans and had produced over 600 bracelets.

Joining forces with Social Motion Skills and The Center for Pursuit.

Around the time I founded Aspire Accessories, Wendy Dawson was creating Social Motion Skills, a nonprofit in Houston dedicated to teaching social and life skills to children and young adults with intellectual differences.  Nick began taking classes through Social Motion and Wendy and I realized we were working toward a shared mission. In 2016 we decided to collaborate and created the Aspire Accessories work transition and training program for young adults with Autism and similar special needs.  By 2021, Aspire had employed over 75 artisans, paying them more than $300,000 in wages, and imparted a wealth of real world learning. Artisans have had the opportunity to create hundreds of designs, use complex machinery, and learn countless new skills. And the program continued to grow!

In the summer of 2021, Aspire Accessories, Social Motion Skills, and The Center for Pursuit (TCFP) announced a strategic alliance to bring expanded autism and life span services for those with neurodiversity and intellectual and developmental disabilities through the “Center of Excellence.” As part of this collaboration, the Aspire Accessories workshop will move to TCFP’s brand new Harrisburg campus in early 2022. Aspire artisans will have the opportunity to work in a modern and expanded workspace, and have access to additional health services, programming, and independent living.

Moving from NEVER to NEVER BELIEVE IN NEVER.

Everything goes back to that prognosis and the bleak vision the doctor painted for Nick’s future.  I have always had a “glass half-full” approach to life and I carry this with me as I continue to look for innovative ways for Aspire Accessories to flourish. I truly hope that through Aspire Accessories we can continue to create positive opportunities for as many young adults as possible.  One thing I always said was that I wanted Nick to have a sense of purpose. Through his work at Aspire Accessories, he gained that and more- a true community.

Throughout these years, the biggest lesson I have learned is that the only NEVER I believe in is NEVER BELIEVE IN NEVER.

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