Young adults on the autism spectrum have the lowest rate of employment compared to their peers with other types of disabilities, according to a 2015 report published by Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.
The Rutgers Chapter of Enactus, an international non-profit organization that harnesses the power of entrepreneurial action to improve local communities, is partnering with a locally-based group, Popcorn for the People, to change this. The initiative is one of three year-long projects that Rutgers Enactus is undertaking.
With a café in the Brunswick Square Mall, and a new processing center, also located in East Brunswick, Popcorn for the People provides meaningful employment to adults on the autism spectrum and those with developmental disorders.
Students, led by Project Manager Rachel Cheng, a Rutgers Business School senior, are learning important skills and exercising business acumen, as they consult with Popcorn for the People to optimize operations, secure corporate sales, grow the national brand’s online presence, and market this empowering producer of gourmet popcorn. Cheng has accepted an offer to join the Popcorn for the People staff full-time upon graduation as the Chief Operating Officer.
While the number of employees fluctuates, there are currently ten Popcorn for the People employees, ranging in age from 20 to 50, who develop work and social skills while building relationships with their co-workers and connecting with customers. There are also interns and high school students who participate in training to learn the skills necessary to work at the storefront and processing center.
One-hundred percent of the profits from Popcorn for the People go to the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, “Let’s Work for Good,” whose mission is to create sustainable, meaningful employment for adults with autism and other developmental disorders.
Popcorn for the People employees are responsible for preparing, packing and selling the 16 creative flavors, which range from the classic butter salt, to unique specialty flavors like cookies n’ cream and buffalo wing.
The popcorn is available in-store, online, and at pop-up shop events.
The students are also helping to grow the operation by working alongside Popcorn for the People employees on the autism spectrum at pop-up shops on and around the Rutgers campus.
With the help of Enactus members, Popcorn for the People has hosted pop-up shops at the Livingston Student Center on the Livingston Campus in Piscataway, as well as at the newest location of Hidden Grounds Coffee, a coffee shop on Easton Avenue in New Brunswick that is frequented by Rutgers students and New Brunswick residents.
Rutgers Enactus presented their work with Popcorn for the People as well as their two other projects at the Enactus United States Regional competition in Washington, D.C. on March 31st. The Rutgers chapter, chartered on campus only three years ago, beat out well-established teams from schools like the University of Virginia, and will be advancing to the Enactus United States National Exposition in Kansas City from May 21st to May 23rd.
To stay in touch with Popcorn for the People, visit the website or social media accounts!
To learn more about Rutgers Enactus, check out our website or social media!