Valerie Herskowitz, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, USA

Gold Stevie Award Winner 2012, Click to Enter The 2014 American Business Awards

Company:Valerie Herskowitz, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, USA
Entry Submitted By:National Autism Registry
Company Description:The National Autism Registry provides recreational and educational opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities. It was founded by Valerie Herskowitz, who was a previous Stevie Award winner for her work in the field of autism.
Nomination Category:Individual Awards Categories
Nomination Sub Category:Female Innovator of the Year – Government or Non-Profit –10 or Less Employees

Nomination Title: Valerie Herskowitz, Providing Employment Opportunities for those with Autism

Describe for the judges the activities and accomplishments of the nominated woman since the beginning of July last year (up to 525 words):

One of the biggest fears for a parent of a child with autism is the day when their child graduates high school. This life event is often referred to as "falling off the cliff," as there are so few options for these individuals. Though Valerie Herskowitz spent two years researching every possibility for her son, Blake, on the day he graduated in May 2013, at the age of 22, Blake's only option was to sit at home on the couch. There were virtually no programs in her community that served adult individuals with greater challenges like her son.

From that point, Valerie spent her days trying to provide meaningful activities for her Blake while also trying to continue her own career as a speech pathologist. This was not an easy task, and Valerie was worried that Blake’s future looked quite bleak. However, unbeknownst to Valerie, a new endeavor lay on the horizon: Previously, Valerie had taken up studies in the pastry arts. Over the course of two years, she had received training from a local culinary instructor as well as having graduated as a Certified Chocolatier from Ecole Chocolat. While practicing her new skills in her home kitchen, Blake, now out of school, worked alongside his mother baking delicious pastries and creating chocolate truffles and other types of candies.

Blake’s pre-occupation for baking and chocolate-making came as quite a welcome surprise as this was the first major interest he had ever displayed. Receiving rave reviews from family and friends, who urged them to sell their delicious products, Valerie started a new business called The Chocolate Spectrum in order to provide a purposeful life for Blake. The duo of mother and son received a great deal of media attention, which inspired Valerie to combine her previous experience as therapist and her new pastry skills to start a culinary training and employment program for other developmentally disabled adults individuals in a similar situation as her son. So August of 2014, through The National Autism Registry (NARY), a nonprofit organization that Valerie and her husband had founded in 2005, Valerie began The Chocolate Spectrum Chocolatier Training and Employment Program. Adults with various disabilities come to Valerie’s kitchen to join Blake in learning the art of making truffles, molded chocolates, fudge and other chocolate-inspired creations. In addition to preparing the treats, the participants also are involved in the packaging, shipping and direct sales component of running a chocolate business. Presently, this program is being expanded to a neighboring community, and Valerie is in the process of creating a Video Cooking Academy to serve disabled individuals nationally.

The unemployment rate among just adults with autism is well over 50%. The rate of unemployment for those with greater challenges is significantly higher. This program endeavors to serve individuals who even demonstrate severe issues as Valerie feels that every person is able to be trained in some facet of this enterprise. The mission of this program is to not only serve as a means to provide opportunities for the individuals that they are able to serve directly, but also as a model of other social enterprises with a similar mission.

Provide a brief biography of the nominated woman (up to 125 words):

Valerie Herskowitz has been involved in the field of autism for over 37 years as both a speech pathologist and mother. She founded Dimensions Therapy Center, which served children with special needs, and also the Dimensions Family Club (subsequently the National Autism Registry), which brings needed activities to individuals with special needs. She was the recipient of the Stevie Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. Presently, Valerie is an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University, where she teaches several courses on autism. From June 2013 –June 2014, Valerie served as the President of Florida Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, and will take the helm again starting in June 2015. Valerie is the owner of The Chocolate Spectrum, and the President of the National Autism Registry.