From NEVERland to WONDERland
A word from Denise Hazen, Founder and Creative Director of Aspire Accessories
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, it was at that moment I decided to prove him wrong. My son might not ever 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 was something that inspired me to find what Nick was capable of doing.
I discovered at an early age that Nick had an incredible talent for detail. I searched for outlets for this talent and was introduced to a master leather craftsman, Peter Main, when Nick was 14. Peter apprenticed Nick and instructed him on 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 at this time that this gift was going to create an avenue for Nick to perform meaningful work.
In 2011, Nick and I created 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. We were approached by 2 non-profits to create custom bracelets.
As a connected member of the ASD community, I began meeting other parents also searching for purpose for their young adults. I shared Nick’s story and as interest for Aspire Accessories grew, I realized a few things:
- 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 in order to provide opportunities for others with ASD and other similar special needs.
Within a few months we had 4 artisans and had produced over 600 bracelets.
Joining forces with Social Motion Skills
Around the time I was forming Aspire Accessories, Wendy Dawson was creating Social Motion Skills, a nonprofit in Houston dedicated to teaching social and living 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. Fast forward to 2020 and we have employed over 50 artisans, paying them a total of $242,000 in wages, and imparted on them a wealth of real world learning.
Moving from NEVERland to WONDERLAND
Everything goes back to that prognosis and the bleak vision the doctor painted for Nick’s future. I have always had a “glass is half-full” approach to life and I carry this with me as I continue to look for innovative ways to make our program sustainable. I truly hope that through Aspire Accessories we can continue to have a positive influence on as many young adults as possible. My biggest learning throughout these years is that the only NEVER I believe in is NEVER BELIEVE IN NEVER.
Watch our NEVERland to WONDERland video:
If you would like to know more then do get in touch!