Get a quality car wash while providing jobs for adults with autism at the same time.
That's the concept behind a business debuting this week in Parkland. Rising Tide Car Wash is the brainchild of a family with an autistic son, Andrew, now 22. The entrepreneur dad and non-autistic brother came up with the idea to launch a business that could use the strengths of people with autism to offer a superior product. The business would provide badly needed jobs for the autistic, who face unemployment rates estimated at 90 percent.
The D'Eri family opted to develop a car wash, because that business harnesses autistic people's comfort with repetitive tasks and their tendency toward compulsive cleanliness. What's more, car washes hire large numbers of of people, helping to create a supportive community for the autistic employees and their families, said co-founders John and Thomas D'Eri.
The Parkland locale now employs 32 car workers with autism including Andrew — all who have been rigorously trained and passed an exam. Their supervisors are skilled in working with the autistic. The car wash has one of the highest numbers of autistic workers in any locale in Florida, experts said.
Boca Raton resident Ivan Jensen knew none of that, when he stopped in Tuesday to wash his wife's car. He liked the cleaning job, and when he learned the employees were autistic, he liked it even more.
"I would come back," said Jensen, 31, who works in automotive services. "And a lot of people I run into, when they hear it's for a great cause, they will be more than happy to support it."
But to stay profitable and provide jobs for the autistic long-term, the D'Eris know their business needs more than charity: It has to provide a quality product with real value for customers.
That's why they partnered with experts in autism and in carwashes to develop a process and workplace centered on the autistic and easy to set up in other sites too. That meant breaking down a car wash into 46 steps and teaching every step to the employees. It also meant providing visual aids, such as pictures in the bathroom that remind employees how they should look on exiting, with clean hands and shirt tucked in.
The family ran a pilot program this summer at a car wash near Homestead, documenting all the steps, training and results - working with the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Diseases. The center's director is thrilled to help develop sustainable jobs for more of the 7,000 people his group serves in South Florida, including many college graduates stuck at home.
"Most people with autism can work. They can be very successful when given the right support. There just aren't enough job opportunities with the right support system," said center director Michael Alessandri.
Rising Tide employee Rashad Sanders, 19, has worked before - in a different car wash. But the Lauderdale Lakes resident said he's more comfortable at his new job: he's teamed up with another employee on each wash, has been trained to do more tasks and shares with others living with autism.
"It feels real good," said high school senior Sanders, fresh from washing a car in less than six minutes.
For Andrew D'Eri, Rising Tide represents his first job with pay. Before moving to Florida last year, he volunteered in New York bagging groceries at a supermarket, folding menus at a restaurant and helping with paperwork at a nonprofit. He now looks forward to earning enough pay to take a trip.
"I'm planning to go to Orlando and walk around the theme parks," said Andrew D'Eri. "I feel happy."
The D'Eris invested about $3 million in their social enterprise so far. Prices at Rising Tide at 7201 N. State Road 7 in Parkland are comparable to other car washes, from $5 to $28. The locale officially opens Friday.
RISING TIDE CAR WASH
What: Social enterprise with the mission to employ people with autism.
Where: 7201 N. State Road 7, Parkland. Open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Founders: John and Thomas D'Eri, the father and brother of Andrew D'Eri, an employee.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun