Extraordinary Ventures creates jobs for those with autism


Shuya Osada works on getting folded clothes wrapped in plastic wrap while Yoshia Osada lends a hand at Extraordinary Ventures on Thursday.

Natalie Dankner used to hate her job as an office assistant, but now she can’t wait to get to work.

Natalie has autism — and while the majority of autistic adults face unemployment, she has been working at Extraordinary Ventures for five years.

Extraordinary Ventures, a Chapel Hill nonprofit, creates small businesses around the skills of young adults with autism and developmental disabilities. The organization was founded in 2007 by a group of families who had children with developmental disabilities, mostly autism.

These families realized that there wasn’t much for their children to do after completing school, which is why they decided to start Extraordinary Ventures.

Van Hatchell, managing director for Extraordinary Ventures and a UNC alumnus and former walk-on for the men’s basketball team, said 40 people are currently employed by the organization. Hatchell said the organization hires through employment agencies.

Within Extraordinary Ventures, there are several self-sustaining businesses — like the office solutions business Natalie Dankner works for — designed around the skills of individual employees.

Extraordinary Ventures conducts walk-in interviews, and then potential employees do a set of different tasks to see what type of job would maximize their strengths.

“There will be about 500,000 young adults with autism phasing out of the school system nation-wide in the next ten years,” Hatchell said.

Lisa Dankner, Natalie Dankner’s mother, said the job was part of her daughter’s transition program to start spending less time in school and more time in the community. Lisa Dankner said she loves the organization because it allows employees to demonstrate their strengths.

“The job is carved out around what Natalie can do,” Dankner said. “She will never look to gain full employment, but this is a way for her to get involved in the community in a positive way.”

While Natalie cannot interact verbally, she participates in office work and receives individualized support from Extraordinary Ventures.

“Natalie does not have a typical relationship with her employers, but they always speak to her with the utmost respect,” Lisa Dankner said.

Lisa Dankner said the job is a learning experience for Natalie Dankner, and Extraordinary Ventures is always looking to help her grow within her abilities within the job.

Ryan Fulcher, director of human resources for Extraordinary Ventures, said Natalie has grown as an individual since she started consistently working at Extraordinary Ventures.

“She went from not wanting to work at all to picking out her outfit the night before work,” Fulcher said.

“Having little stories like that makes me feel like Extraordinary Ventures not only makes a difference to those here at work, but at home.”


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