Mom Creates Amazing Job Opportunities for People with Autism
Autism Warrior: Dr. Barbie Zimmerman-Bier
Dr. Barbie Zimmerman-Bier is the Chief of Developmental Pediatrics at Metropolitan Hospital in NYC and Clinical Associate Professor at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. She is also the Executive Director of Popcorn for the People, a social enterprise of the nonprofit 501(C)3 Let’s Work for Good.
The unemployment/underemployment rate in the autism community is 80 percent. Popcorn for the People trains and hires workers with autism to cook, package, and market gourmet flavored popcorn. They have workers ranging from 19 to 50 years of age, and for some, this is their first job. Many of their employees previously had difficulty maintaining steady employment. Popcorn for the People provides a caring, nurturing, safe environment.
Location: The popcorn is produced at a popcorn processing center in East Brunswick, NJ. and has been sold in malls, festivals, ball games and online at popcornforthepeople.com.
Accomplishments: Popcorn for the People has developed a business that creates real, meaningful and sustainable employment for the autism community. The business was trademarked by the US government and contracted to be the flavored popcorn for all Rutgers athletic events including Rutgers Big 10 Football and Basketball. This organization started with just Dr. Zimmerman-Bier’s son, Samuel, and now you can see at least eight of their workers hawking popcorn at Rutgers football and even more running the three popcorn concession stands. All the popcorn they sell has been produced daily by two shifts of workers cooking and packaging popcorn at the processing center. The online store, popcornforthepeople.com, received a grant from Google and now ships throughout the US and Canada.
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Inspiration: Barbie said she is inspired when her son comes home at 5:30 PM telling her about his long day at work. Not so long ago he was sleeping till noon, unemployed, and bored. Now, Barbie said, he is like every other working person. After getting a job at Popcorn for the People, he felt empowered and motivated knowing he is bringing smiles to people’s faces when they try the popcorn.
Goals: Barbie’s goal is to standardize the operations of Popcorn for the People so their model can be reproduced in other cities, giving the opportunity to even more people around the country. She wants to raise awareness and change how society views people on the autism spectrum, but most importantly, secure jobs for the autism community.
Advice for families affected by autism: “Never stop educating yourself! The field of autism is constantly changing. Many ideas that were once considered radical are now considered mainstream so keep learning. And don’t get discouraged by bad moments. Remember it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.
This article was featured in Issue 73 – Amazing Ways To Support Autism