SOAR FOX CITIES ANNOUNCES NEW PROGRAM “MAKE I.T. SOAR”

Program hires high-functioning individuals with Autism for contracted I.T. work

Published Wednesday, February 17, 2016

SOAR Fox Cities is excited to announce its new pilot program Make I.T. SOAR (I.T. stands for Intellectual Technicians). This program gives high-functioning individuals with Autism (formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome) an opportunity to be gainfully employed in the information technology industry.

“There are currently no programs that exist in the community that support employment for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum,” said Sonia Barham, executive director of SOAR Fox Cities. “Make I.T. SOAR will provide these individuals who have the technical skills with higher wage earning potential. Our hope is to shine a spotlight on the unique abilities, strengths and untapped resources of people with autism.

SOAR’s new director of operations, Nick Hanford, and an Autism Specialist will oversee Make I.T. SOAR. They will use an application process to identify approximately 10 qualified individuals 18 years or older to partake in training and assessment modules. After the training and assessment process is complete, the staff will hire five individuals to work as technicians. SOAR Fox Cities will identify and network with local telecommunications, I.T. and small businesses to secure I.T. contracts for the technicians to complete.

According to the Economic Outlook Survey presented by the Fox Cities Chamber in February 2015 and an article published in November 2015 by New North B2B, there is a shortage of I.T. talent in the Fox Cities. Many high-functioning individuals on the ASD spectrum, however, have strong technical skills and interest. These are the two key factors behind Make I.T. SOAR program’s mission of empowering high-functioning individuals with autism to pursue their dreams and utilize their talents in the technology industry.

“Hiring individuals with autism just makes good business sense. They are excellent workers who are dependable, follow company rules, have a low rate of absenteeism and have an extreme attention to detail,” said Hanford. “Local businesses will also benefit from the Make I.T. SOAR program by employing an underutilized workforce that is highly skilled, allowing them to keep their I.T. projects local and cost effective. In addition, our technicians will provide firsthand education to area corporations of the value individuals with autism can bring and help promote acceptance.”

Studies show that autism is the fastest growing developmental disability and autism in U.S. children has increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010. Thirty-five percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school (Shattuck et al., 2012). Some estimates indicate that the rate of underemployment among adults with autism exceeds 90 percent.

Sadly in our community today there is still a huge stigma around individuals with developmental disabilities,” said Barham. “SOAR Fox Cities is working hard to break this stigma and to have the community as a whole see individuals for their abilities not their disabilities. The Make I.T. SOAR program will play a major role towards the path of acceptance and advancement.”

If your business or if you know of any businesses that would like to partner with SOAR Fox Cities and the Make I.T. SOAR program, please contact Nick Hanford at nick@soarfoxcities.com

About SOAR Fox Cities, Inc.

SOAR Fox Cities, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization in the Fox Cities providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families since 1956. Its mission is to "Empower People with Differing Abilities." For more information, visit www.soarfoxcities.com.

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Nich Hanford Bio

Nick Hanford, SOAR Fox Cities’ newly hired director of operations, will bring his diverse background to Make I.T. SOAR program. Hanford graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a degree in Business Administration after majoring in Economics. From 2000 to 2003, he was a part of the Project Success initiative at the UW Oshkosh where he taught dyslexic students algebra and computing skills, coordinated special needs tests with professors and students, managed lab nights, and trained students in adaptive software.

After college, Hanford spent 13 years at Adaptive Technology Resources where he channeled his skills to provide training to clients in a variety of software. He consulted with Wisconsin school districts to help them set up assistive technology teams, establish universal libraries, install and configure software with I.T. departments, and provide training for students and staff.

Nick recently completed a Master's of Business Administration program at UW Oshkosh. He is also part owner of a shoe store, runs his own property management company, works as an independent I.T. consultant, is a real estate agent and works with Fox Valley Tech in its OAR (Occupational Aide Readiness) program.  

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