Tampa, Fla. ,
08:00 AM

Finding Your Uniqabilities At The Artistas Café

Working mom leaves Corporate America to start non-profit to give those with autism unique opportunities.

Vicky Westra left corporate life when her daughter was diagnosed with autism.

“At the time my daughter was diagnosed, I had no idea what autism was,” Westra says. “I learned the future for people with autism was challenging, with 90 percent being unemployed.”

She started the nonprofit, Autism Shifts, to provide employment and community integration opportunities for people on the spectrum.

“While many people with autism are talented individuals with amazing skills, they have some challenges with social and communication skills and multi-tasking. They can learn or improve some of these skills at the Artistas Café,” shared Westra, the founder of the Café.

Artistas Café provides real-world training and employment in a safe environment for people diagnosed with autism. The café, formerly located in an auto dealership in Tampa, Fla., is now a mobile café, thanks in part to a grant from State Farm®.

The mobile Café will allow Artistas to take its program into the community to schools, businesses, and events,” Westra said. “Not only will it provide gourmet beverages and foods, but it also will allow us to deliver our Autism Ready Educational Program. We believe this will accelerate our mission to create an Autism Ready Community.”

Arlo Henderson discovered the unique café during a routine car service appointment. After visiting the café, the Tampa, Fla., State Farm® agent was so impressed with the customer service he became a board member for Autism Shifts, the nonprofit that runs it.

“I loved that Artistas Café looks at what people with autism can do instead of what they cannot do. They call it finding their ‘uniqabilities,’” he says. “I always like to find people’s strengths and help them understand how they can best use them.”

Henderson is one of the many business people helping make Westra’s vision a reality. He previously had an autistic team member in his office who helped him see everyone struggles with communication at one time or another.

“My team member helped me better understand how much value every individual can bring to the workplace,” Henderson says. “He also helped me personally grow as a manager and leader.”

Because of the success of the Café, the vision has expanded to establish an Artistas Development Center. It is designed to serve individuals on various levels of the autism spectrum.

“I’m working with business partners, including doctors, engineers and nutritionists to help create the Center,” Henderson adds. “When people understand the unique skills and abilities people with autism bring to the table, they will be eager to hire them.”

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