September 23, 2019 | 70° F

Rutgers group partners with East Brunswick store to employ adults with autism


Courtesy of Deanna Politte | East Brunswick-based "Popcorn for the People" hires young adults with autism spectrum disorder to help them combat low employment rates. Rutgers Enactus is teaming up with the organization to expand their business and raise funds to assist them with future endeavors.

Much like a heated kernel, local non-profit group "Popcorn for the People" is looking to expand. And one club at Rutgers hopes to help.

But social-entrepreneurial club Rutgers Enactus is working with Popcorn for the People, an East Brunswick non-profit organization that hires young adults with autism to help the business grow and raise awareness of their mission, said  Anh Ngo, the marketing lead for the Popcorn for the People project under Enactus and Rutgers Business School sophomore.

Nine in 10 adults with autism are unemployed, or underemployed, according to a 2012 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Popcorn for the People is run by "Let's Work for Good," a non-profit organization founded in 2015, that focuses on employing adults with autism and developmental disabilities and providing them with meaningful and long-lasting jobs, according to their website.

The founder of Popcorn for the People, Steven Bier, established the non-profit to help his son and friends who have autism. 

Adults with autism have the ability, desire and right to work, according to the website. The organization's goal is to ensure they acquire the satisfaction and accomplishment that derives from steady employment. 

The high rate of unemployment among adults on the autism spectrum can be attributed to their need for stronger social skills and a lack of job opportunities that provide a sense of purpose and meaning, according to a Popcorn for the People press release

Popcorn for the People employees are responsible for preparing and packing the 16 various flavors of popcorn that are available in-store and online.

Rutgers Enactus is working with Popcorn for the People as consultants to help the business grow and to raise awareness of the business and its mission to employ people with autism.

Enactus combines the business skill from classes and extra-curricular activities in order to help non-profit organizations plan out their businesses, Ngo said. 

“What Rutgers Enactus is trying to do for Popcorn for the People is build up their brand and increase the sales because they have a website and a storefront right now,” Ngo said.

Popcorn for the People do not have marketers, Ngo said. There are operational issues in terms of structuring and standardizing the process of making popcorn, and every employee is different in terms of their capabilities and social skills, making it hard to standardize.

Popcorn for the People also did not have any social media presence, Ngo said. The company did not have a clear brand message either and needed assistance moving into a fulfillment center.

Enactus is helping Popcorn for the People by taking a consulting role, and examining and recommending what they can do to improve their business and operate more efficiently, said Meghan Grau, a Rutgers Enactus media consulting member. 

Enactus has been working on making more popcorn, reaching a bigger audience and making people more aware of the business, the Rutgers Business School senior said. 

One way Popcorn for the People has tried to expand its business and raise awareness for autism is by creating pop-up shops, Ngo said.

There have been fundraisers at the University and local coffee shop Hidden Grounds recently sponsored an event where they sold popcorn during "Movie Night," she said.

Popcorn for the People employees and Enactus students travel throughout New Jersey to sell popcorn and in the process raise awareness of people with autism and the issues that they face in employment, Ngo said. 

“Connections are established through conversation with the employees, and this social engagement bridges the divide between individuals on the autism spectrum and others in our society," according to the organization's press release. 

Nicholas Simon is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.

Nick Huber

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