The Non Profit Podcast Network

How Personalized Pathways Yield Better Results for Neurodiverse Adults; The Meristem Story.

May 29, 2024 The Non Profit Podcast Network
How Personalized Pathways Yield Better Results for Neurodiverse Adults; The Meristem Story.
The Non Profit Podcast Network
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The Non Profit Podcast Network
How Personalized Pathways Yield Better Results for Neurodiverse Adults; The Meristem Story.
May 29, 2024
The Non Profit Podcast Network

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Please send me a text...

Imagine a world where neurodiversity is not only understood but celebrated for the unique strengths it brings to our society. Erin Schirm of Meristem joins me for a transformative conversation on how this organization is fostering independence and opening doors to employment for adults on the autism spectrum and other neurodiverse conditions. Erin shares the beautiful metaphor behind 'Meristem'—a place of growth and regeneration—mirroring their mission to nurture potential through the Meristem method.

Peering into the intricacies of genetics and environmental factors, we consider the potential contributors to neurodiversity, and Erin sheds light on the evolution of person-centered planning in disability services. Balancing individual aspirations with their well-being is a delicate dance, and we explore how Meristem masterfully choreographs this process. He also reveals the profound impact tactile educational experiences, such as woodworking and art, have on learning and development, especially for those with heightened sensitivities.

Finally,  we celebrate the achievements of Meristem's students, learning about the program's capability to open career paths previously thought unattainable for adults with autism. Erin recounts the heartwarming success stories of graduates flourishing in the workforce, defying expectations and thriving in their chosen fields, including college graduation for some. We also examine the vital role of funding and community support in sustaining such life-changing programs. We'll spotlight the empowerment of entrepreneurship, where neurodiverse students gain independence by creating and selling their own products, reinforcing the belief that everyone deserves a place to shine. Join me for this session of inspiration and hope, as we unveil actionable insights into supporting the richness of neurodiversity and the opportunities it can represent in the workforce and beyond. 

For more information on Meristem and the Meristem program  visit:  https://meristem.pro/
Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/77WgX3tMWTE

CHAPTERS
(00:00) Maristem Method for Neurodiversity Support
Maristem's mission is to foster independence in adults with disabilities through a unique program inspired by Waldorf education and Ruskin Mill's therapeutic crafts model.

(09:17) Genetics, Person-Centered Planning, and Education
Genetic factors, environmental toxicity, person-centered planning, conflict resolution, and tactile/haptic experiences in education.

(12:57) Sensory Integration and Workforce Development
Hands-on experiences in craft, movement, and land work contribute to basic skills and sensory development, particularly for those on the autism spectrum.

(20:53) Maristem Autism Program Capacity and Enrollment
Nature's person-centered planning for individuals with disabilities, balancing autonomy and support, Maristem's program capacity and enrollment process, and support for parents and instructors.

(26:49) Career Paths for Adults With Autism
Nature's unique educational models for individuals with autism, hiring practices, and success stories of Maristem graduates.

(33:47) Funding and Fundraising at Maristem
Maristem's funding strategies include partnerships, private pay options, and fundraising events for sustainability and practical needs.

(42:07) Empowering Neurodiverse Students Through Entrepreneurship
Maristem empowers neurodiverse students through paid internships and social enterprises, fostering independence and community support.

HIGHLIGHT TIMESTAMPS
(08:10 - 09:17) Nutrition and Autism
(10:52 - 12:34) Person-Cen

Show Notes Transcript

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Please send me a text...

Imagine a world where neurodiversity is not only understood but celebrated for the unique strengths it brings to our society. Erin Schirm of Meristem joins me for a transformative conversation on how this organization is fostering independence and opening doors to employment for adults on the autism spectrum and other neurodiverse conditions. Erin shares the beautiful metaphor behind 'Meristem'—a place of growth and regeneration—mirroring their mission to nurture potential through the Meristem method.

Peering into the intricacies of genetics and environmental factors, we consider the potential contributors to neurodiversity, and Erin sheds light on the evolution of person-centered planning in disability services. Balancing individual aspirations with their well-being is a delicate dance, and we explore how Meristem masterfully choreographs this process. He also reveals the profound impact tactile educational experiences, such as woodworking and art, have on learning and development, especially for those with heightened sensitivities.

Finally,  we celebrate the achievements of Meristem's students, learning about the program's capability to open career paths previously thought unattainable for adults with autism. Erin recounts the heartwarming success stories of graduates flourishing in the workforce, defying expectations and thriving in their chosen fields, including college graduation for some. We also examine the vital role of funding and community support in sustaining such life-changing programs. We'll spotlight the empowerment of entrepreneurship, where neurodiverse students gain independence by creating and selling their own products, reinforcing the belief that everyone deserves a place to shine. Join me for this session of inspiration and hope, as we unveil actionable insights into supporting the richness of neurodiversity and the opportunities it can represent in the workforce and beyond. 

For more information on Meristem and the Meristem program  visit:  https://meristem.pro/
Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/77WgX3tMWTE

CHAPTERS
(00:00) Maristem Method for Neurodiversity Support
Maristem's mission is to foster independence in adults with disabilities through a unique program inspired by Waldorf education and Ruskin Mill's therapeutic crafts model.

(09:17) Genetics, Person-Centered Planning, and Education
Genetic factors, environmental toxicity, person-centered planning, conflict resolution, and tactile/haptic experiences in education.

(12:57) Sensory Integration and Workforce Development
Hands-on experiences in craft, movement, and land work contribute to basic skills and sensory development, particularly for those on the autism spectrum.

(20:53) Maristem Autism Program Capacity and Enrollment
Nature's person-centered planning for individuals with disabilities, balancing autonomy and support, Maristem's program capacity and enrollment process, and support for parents and instructors.

(26:49) Career Paths for Adults With Autism
Nature's unique educational models for individuals with autism, hiring practices, and success stories of Maristem graduates.

(33:47) Funding and Fundraising at Maristem
Maristem's funding strategies include partnerships, private pay options, and fundraising events for sustainability and practical needs.

(42:07) Empowering Neurodiverse Students Through Entrepreneurship
Maristem empowers neurodiverse students through paid internships and social enterprises, fostering independence and community support.

HIGHLIGHT TIMESTAMPS
(08:10 - 09:17) Nutrition and Autism
(10:52 - 12:34) Person-Cen

00:00 - jeff (Host)
Aaron Schirm, welcome to the Nonprofit Podcast Network. Thanks, jeff. Great to be here. We're excited, you know I have to ask before we get into the real meat of the conversation what does meristem mean? I'm sure it has some symbolic meaning. 

00:14 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, and so the meristem comes from the part of the plant that has undifferentiated cells, and those cells end up being the cells that turn into a bigger stalk, a new branch, a new leaf, et cetera. So they're like the cells that have the most potential, that are often near the most points of growth in a plant, and so eventually they say, hey, I need to be stronger, bigger, branch off again, and they become those things. 

00:42 - jeff (Host)
Ah, as in potentially neural pathways. Exactly. 

00:44 - erin (Guest)
Yep, 100%. So it's a great metaphor. We live the metaphor at Maristem. We believe that a student comes or a client shows up to Maristem and you know there's potential. They have their own potential that we try to create an environment for them to unfold into whatever they want those new branches and leaves and so on. 

01:04 - jeff (Host)
Bloom and flower et cetera, et cetera, 100%. 

01:06
Wonderful, we're going to get to what Maristem is, but I'd like to read something that is on your website, just for the benefit of everybody, because I think it's a really, really poignant phrase. What Maristem is doing is redefining the spectrum of ability, addressing one of the most significant public policy challenges we face in our state and in our society the unacceptable unemployment rate for people with abilities who also happen to have disabilities. Maristem is unique. There's no equivalent program in our region, state or nation. Maristem offers hope, purpose and meaning. It's one of a kind, and that is from. 

01:46 - erin (Guest)
Daryl Steinberg, mayor Sacramento. He's on our board. We super appreciate him. 

01:51 - jeff (Host)
Yeah, that's an amazing, just an amazing phrase. Okay, now that we've done that and we've learned what Maristem is and we've got a great introduction to it, give us a high-level overview of what the organization is, what the school is. 

02:06 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, so the mission simply of Maristem is to support adults on the autism spectrum, neurodiversity, intellectual disabilities, to develop greater independence. So oftentimes an individual who's challenged needs somebody to help them with daily living, get through school, et cetera, et cetera. Somebody to help them with daily living, get through school, et cetera, et cetera. Our program is designed to support somebody to go through a re-stepping developmental process so that those numbers of people that need to help that individual can kind of be reduced, step back a little bit further, be less hands-on, so that that individual can be productive and be doing exactly what they want to be doing in their life. And yeah, so I mean that's our broad mission. 

02:51 - jeff (Host)
Okay, so you say re-stepping reset, so to speak. What is the age of the students that you have in the program? 

03:01 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, we work with adults mainly so 18 plus have in the program. Yeah, we work with adults, mainly so 18 plus after about 28,. We check social impact. Is this going to be a good fit for somebody who's 30 or 40 hanging out with 18-year olds, for example? A lot of that is just determined partially by funding and then sometimes can go a little bit younger, to the 16 age, working with Department of Rehabilitation, because some of their programs allow for younger clients. 

03:28 - jeff (Host)
In essence, you're not taking the youth from early on, you know, grammar school age. You're actually taking people who maybe have been missed along the way to some degree, as I recall from the tour, and picking them up. And that's what the reset is. It's you know they missed whatever it was, from whatever age, to 18, 19, 20, and starting over and rebuilding that, that neural pathway, so to speak, the meristem. 

03:55 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, a hundred percent, yeah, and and so to me it's, you know, one of the there's more and more therapeutic intervention is happening at younger ages for autism, which is awesome. There's a lot of people that didn't get that or didn't have access to it or it wasn't around or they didn't realize they had access to until later on, and so that's where we kind of step in with the adult aged individuals Also. There's very few like so there's individual therapies that you can go do, but there's very few places that actually bring all the therapy therapies together. And so I think that the kind of uniqueness that's even that I would, if I were to do, if I, if I had the ability to model that, both for young children and like the whole spectrum, there'd be a whole, a whole progression of education that was hands-on, will-based arts and crafts. That would basically do what we're doing, but bring somebody much earlier through the process, but we get them at adult age and kind of help them go back through certain stages. 

04:55 - jeff (Host)
You have a particular method, the Maristem method. Can you walk us through what that is and where did it originate? 

05:01 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, maristem originally is inspired by a few different kind of key sources. So if I really go back, like Waldorf education, rudolf Steiner's behind Waldorf education kind of inspired an approach to education that Maristem has been inspired by there's a man named Angus Gordon in England who out of that same stream, created something he calls Ruskin Mill which does therapeutic crafts education for a variety, not just autism, but for kind of all disabilities, juvenile delinquents, et cetera. And they they've been doing it for 20 years and so are the founders of Maristem knew Angus and kind of were inspired by Angus's work. They brought that to the US, put it at Maristem and you had this kind of hybrid of a method that's really trying to touch the individual human being that we're working with, find the places where they're stuck and, through using movement as the primary modality, help them break out and reintegrate themselves at a variety of levels. 

06:08
And so what we know about the nervous system is the nervous system becomes the healthiest when you have a mix of of movement experiences, so like when I get to climb tree and swing on the swing and throw a ball and, you know, sit on a bike and all of those. 

06:25
The more movement experiences, the more it challenges your nervous system to differentiate yourself, which creates a lot of connections in your brain, which then ultimately, when you get older, leads to the higher levels of executive functioning and thinking that you might need to navigate work and things like that. When that doesn't happen, when you don't, or there's some trauma that occurs that keeps you from integrating the nervous system in some way, the way the nervous system works is it gets rid of things that aren't being used. It atrophies at some level if you're not engaged, in some cases, if it's not differentiated. This is what spastic movement is All the nerves are firing your whole arm rather than being able to differentiate my pinky finger or my thumb or whatever it is. And so, through textiles craft, the five pillars that we work with are life skills, land movement, self-leadership, and we bring those together to help an individual kind of reintegrate themselves and you went through those fast. 

07:24 - jeff (Host)
Would you just say them again? Sure. 

07:26 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, so the five pillars that we kind of identify at Maristem are life skills we're talking about hygiene, economics, stuff like that Land which is ecology, agriculture, stewardship, learning what the place is, understanding how to keep and grow and kind of insert yourself into the space, and then stewardship is taken care of and on that land you actually have a small farm in the back where you're growing plants and you're growing vegetables and fruits, and is that part of that integration? 

08:00 - jeff (Host)
So the students do get to experience it in a tactile way, 100% yeah. 

08:05 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, definitely so. Yeah, we're lucky that the 13-acre campus with the garden. A big challenge oftentimes with autism is gut and nutrition health, and so to really be successful from a therapeutic standpoint, good nutrition is almost a foundational piece, because to really fully go through developmental stages you need the energy to be able to go through developmental stages, and some of the research that's coming out about autism is that the mitochondria of the cell, which is what produces the energy in our system, are working inefficiently. So in autism I'm not producing the amount of energy that my body needs to effectively do the amount of work that we typically do or go through developmental stages, because it takes energy and so nutrition. Having our own garden is a key for many reasons for our program. 

09:03 - jeff (Host)
Yeah, it's amazing to think that they found it all the way down to the myocardium. Yeah, it's incredible. 

09:12 - erin (Guest)
And I'm still a learner in that regard. There's a lot of people doing research on it now. 

09:17 - jeff (Host)
Clearly, genetic, though, because that's a gene-based piece, if I'm not mistaken, at a cellular level. 

09:25 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, no one wants to make a hard conclusion about what is the actual cause. And I wasn't looking at, I wasn't implying that was the case, I just think okay, that's a gene that dictates that cell development. 

09:38 - jeff (Host)
But go ahead. 

09:41 - erin (Guest)
It could be. I think what the conclusions that they've come to to this point is it's some sort of genetic or toxicity-based factor in the body. So either I'm over, like there is a genetic factor there that's built up over generations, or I've been exposed to a toxic environment that's affected my body in some level, or things like that. 

10:03 - jeff (Host)
But no one is willing to pinpoint it. 

10:06 - erin (Guest)
Genetics is an easier one to pinpoint, but you know the other things. It's controversial. 

10:11 - jeff (Host)
Yeah, we know toxicity. We can. We can pollute something to the point of facility. Yeah, you have a mention on the website of being person-centered. What does that really mean? I mean I can interpret it, but I don't want to be incorrect in my assumption. 

10:30 - erin (Guest)
Totally. I mean at its heart it's. Am I starting the conversation with you? Am I looking at who you are and what you're about and what your needs are, rather than me imposing something on you that may or may not work? So what you're trying to do is sess out what does work, use that as your starting point and then get somebody to move. 

10:52
Now there's historical pieces in disability services, because it's gone from what it used to be to the centers lots of abuse in the past. I mean there's some really beautiful examples, but then there's some really negative examples. A lot of times there wasn't a consideration for the individual and so they built this whole model of person centered planning, which means that I'm starting a conversation with the person about the person. The cool thing about it is there's two concepts that kind of predominate person-centered planning, which is what is important for me and what is important to me, because when it's not applied correctly, I can say well, I want to drink Coke all day, I want to watch TV, I want to put my feet up. 

11:37
You know like I want to just only hang out with my friends, like it really important stuff to me, but is it going to help me get to and manage the things that you know, like my hygiene that will keep me healthy and the food that will make you know, keep me sustained, and stuff. So it's a balancing act between working with an individual to say I hear that you want this and this is important to you. Let's do this so that you can actually have this successfully. For example, if you want a friend and you don't have any friends, it's important for you to understand that if I react to somebody and it's my fault and I don't apologize, that person's probably not going to want to be my friend anymore. So if you want a friend, it's important to be able to make repairs when issues come up, so that you can have friends. 

12:25 - jeff (Host)
So you've got that conflict resolution in play all the time. I would imagine A hundred percent. 

12:30 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, okay. 

12:31 - jeff (Host)
I can imagine challenging at times too. 

12:32 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, very very. 

12:35 - jeff (Host)
You know, something else that I saw when I was on campus was the actual. I think they're part of the program but they're haptic, they're tactile experiences of the program, but their haptic, their tactile experiences. There was woodshop and art class and a few other programs that were going on. Can you walk us through that a little bit in terms of what is encompassed for the students on the campus? 

12:56 - erin (Guest)
Yeah. So within our five pillars, particularly the three land, movement and craft, we have many class options. So on a craft level, we have textiles, which is weaving, knitting, sewing, crocheting, ceramics, working with clay, woodworking all sorts of different woods, metalworking, copper, steel. Then we have movement, which is like aerial arts, circus arts, dancing, et cetera, and land digging, planting, shoveling, mowing, weed whacking, all that sort of stuff. Oh, planting, shoveling, mowing, weed whacking, all that sort of stuff. 

13:26 - jeff (Host)
Oh, that 13 and a half acres. 

13:28 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, whacking and mowing is important Very much. 

13:30
I'm glad you can engage the student body to help with some of that maintenance, yeah, and it's a great because we use it as a tool for workforce development. So you learn these basic skills Like I grew up mowing my own lawn not as common these days and you know, got to learn how to use ride mowers and things like that. When I was in college one of my first jobs was landscaping. That was a stepping stone for me. You know, in the workforce, for most of our students they've never even had the opportunity to build the things that give you those stepping stones into the workforce. And so it kills two birds with one stone. 

14:03
For senses, what often happens is a sense is like a two-way street and I have to build up boundaries to filter information as it comes towards me from the outer world or the inner world. At the end of the day, and if I haven't built up those boundaries or those filters effectively, those streets are going to be just on automatic Everything's going to be flowing in or everything's going to be flowing out and ultimately it's like if you just dump gasoline in an engine, it's going to flood and then that engine shuts down and it doesn't work. And so the sensory oftentimes with adult on the autism spectrum they're taking in and having to consciously process 50 times more or more sensory information that we, as neurotypicals or adults, have learned to just filter out Selectively yeah, selectively so that we're not trying to process everything, like there's things that we do need to process and assimilate and integrate, but not as much as every sound that ever happens around us. 

15:06
And so, with the nervous system, to bring the nervous system back into health, because it can get shut down, particularly when we live in a world. When you first enter in, it used to be like you were a baby. You had a nice warm space at home, you were exposed to very few people initially, and gradually you entered into the world. Now you step into an environment that's super electromagnetic. There's a lot of people. If you have two working parents, you're going to be in daycare at four months, if not sooner, all those things. 

15:37
And so, having the opportunity, especially if you're a sensitive individual, there's trauma or there's just like oh man, reaction to being exposed really fast, and then my system shuts down at a variety of levels or doesn't fully integrate. And so to draw that sense back out in a healthy way our campus is built on on nature and and integrating into nature so that those natural, healthy sensory experiences you're more able to assimilate, them, more able to process them effectively in your body, which allows you to draw out, which then allows you to rebuild those filters and those boundaries and then come up against resistance and woodworking and metalworking and kind of find the limits of those and then ultimately find a balance of what's important and what's not important. 

16:26 - jeff (Host)
You know, and to that point the not only the sensory but the touch metal feels different than wood. Different metals feel different temperatures as you heat them. Yeah, you had the, the soap making class, and and the essences, and I mean all of that sensory. I can see where it'd be sensory overload in some cases and if you're trying to manage it, you know what a neat way to do it, because now they're getting a little bit of everything, yeah, even the metals, they have a smell when you heat them up. 

16:51
the solder, everything has a, you know, in that case maybe an odor versus the fragrances. On the other side, if I'm not mistaken, they were rooms and classrooms right next to each other, so you can go from from smelling wonderfully to something not smelling so great to the smell of fresh wood being cut to the outside grass. Yep, a hundred percent, all in 10 feet, 30 feet, whatever it may be. 

17:17 - erin (Guest)
Yep, and every one of those things can elicit a response. 

17:19
Right, and so that's where you know I learned to filter, or, to you know, to integrate my nervous system at the end of the day, because and get a lot of experiences because our sensory life is built on these nerves that are, you know, if I'm talking tactile, so you know metals versus wood, different types of touch. I have proprioceptors in my skin that anytime something touches that, I get a sensation or a response, and more resistance, less resistance. Going deeper, the sense of touch in my experience is really like understanding the boundary of where my inner self stops and my outer self begins, and when you don't integrate that sense of touch, those boundaries get skewed and it's like I could be 10 feet away from you and say, jeff, why'd you just hit me? And it's like I wasn't with. I was 10 feet away from you, I didn't touch you, but it felt like you hit me because my sense of touch is is way too far out or vice versa. 

18:16
And so to me it's the different, like, if we're talking tactile for a second, the different sensory experiences and the different things to touch create a plethora of movement experiences from the nervous systems perspective that allow you to like if I have to push against metal, I got to go a lot harder. So I got to push that sense out more. If I'm working with textiles or fine stuff, I got to refine and pull that back a little bit to be able to just give the amount of effort or force that I need to to work with that material. And so the spectrum helps me kind of find the balance of that, of that boundary that I'm creating. 

18:54 - jeff (Host)
And that, for some of us, is natural. For your students with neurodivergency, it's taught, it's almost a skill that they have to learn. 

19:06 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, whereas in most cases and I may be wrong in the way I phrase that, but it comes a lot either easier or quicker to those of us who are not neurodiverse 100%, yeah, and I think when your nervous system is compromised in some level, it's going to be a lot harder because you're going to be immediately starting with a traumatic response rather than a healthy response to something. 

19:28
But we live in a world now where there's a lot more time on technology, there's a lot less play in nature, there's more organized sports rather than imaginative play that we had as children and that's having the same types of effects. 

19:46
So I'm not getting the amounts of movement experience that you or I might have had when we were growing up less exposure to certain things and a lot more movement experiences now versus sitting and kind of being apathetic on the couch. And you're taking in a lot of sensory information or just like imagery from a TV or a screen, but it's not three-dimensional and it's not for lack of a better term life-giving at the end of the day, like nature or play or being in your imagination and so on, and I think all of those things are factors. You know that, like with autism or not, you know, we got a few students who I wouldn't even say that they're, you know, have a diagnosis of autism but they couldn't make it through college because their nervous system just shut down. The levels of anxiety, just you know, made it impossible for them to succeed. And I think you know I attribute some of that to just kind of the lack of health and movement in our growing up today. 

20:37 - jeff (Host)
And you mentioned college. Let me ask there's an expectation, or a variety of expectations, for the students that you get. Some could be just to get to a sense of independence and others could be on to college and fully independent, correct? 

20:52 - erin (Guest)
100%. Yeah, to me it's about sessing out what each. This is where the person-centered planning piece kind of comes in, where you assess out where is somebody at and then what's the timeframe to get somewhere. And for someone who's more compromised, doing the therapeutic work that's required to really get to full independence is really a time commitment On both parts On both parts. Commitment on both parts on both parts. 

21:21
And you know there's a, you know you have to weigh, like how much is it worth? Versus like just saying, hey, you know what, I'm going to have my some support. I'm going to, you know, go to the gym. I'm going to just do the same kind of more simple, less complex job over and over again and that's, you know, that's, that's where I think I can make it in life, versus the you know the alternative where I can get. You know, if I can overcome some of these basic things, college will unfold, a job will unfold or I'll find an environment. Like maybe I'm not good in person but I'm the like. 

21:47
You know, one of our students 20% faster than anyone at entering Excel sheet data. If there's any nuance in the process he shuts down and walks away. But if he has this, if they have the steps faster than anyone. There is really and that's, like you know, kind of a cool thing about autism. You have these like superpowers at some level that allow you, but pivoting is not an easy thing, so it's got to be set up right, and so some, you know, for some you can find that carve that space out in the workforce or something like that, where they can be super successful and be helpful. 

22:23 - jeff (Host)
How many students can you accommodate? What's capacity? 

22:27 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, I think we're hitting our upper limit. We're at 50 right now. I think all told 70 would probably be like what we can comfortably support on our campus. But we're going. We have three different pieces of our program. So we have living skills training, we have our day program, which is the land movement craft, then we have the whole work skills arm. We're starting to differentiate those almost as separate businesses in some way and I'd say for the day program the upper limit's probably 70. Our dorm capacity for living is probably 40. And we're just starting to scratch the surface of how many people we can touch from the work skills standpoint. I think eventually we're going to expand beyond the Maristem campus at some levels where we can offer some of the ways in which we work in principal form not on Maristem campus, at some levels where we can offer some of the ways in which we work in principal form not on Maristem's campus and that might increase that number exponentially. 

23:25 - jeff (Host)
So it almost be environmentally in the workforce or whatever it might look like. 

23:29 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, 100%. Oh, that'd be wonderful yeah. 

23:32 - jeff (Host)
In the sense of capacity and students. You have students from all over the country. 

23:36 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, correct, Used to be a lot more from around the country. Covid happened and kind of killed movement. Now we have just a few individuals from out of state, a number of people from different areas of California and then probably about half local. 

23:51 - jeff (Host)
Okay, what does it take? How does one get involved? How do you get either your child or the student get themselves into the program? 

24:02 - erin (Guest)
Great question, yeah, so one find us Right, right Find us and reach out. 

24:07 - jeff (Host)
I know it's all on the website, but you got to get to that website and realize there's something that exists Exactly. 

24:11 - erin (Guest)
And I think word of mouth's growing. I think sometimes that's better than even social media can do, because you know some parents talking to someone else's parent and then all of a sudden that just networks. 

24:21 - jeff (Host)
And that network tends to be very, very tight. If you have an autistic child, a child with severe disabilities, you tend to gravitate toward people with like situations. There you go, and then you're off and running. 

24:32 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, yeah. So we rely on that. And then you know you reach out. We have a fairly rigorous like just you know, we ask for kind of all the documentation. Usually if you have some sort of disability, you're going to have individualized education plan and IEP or individual person plan, ipp, along with you know, maybe some psychological assessments and a variety of things, assessments and a variety of things when you come and live. So for Maristem, we ask that somebody has their basic kind of they can manage themselves at a basic level. That means like I can toilet myself, I can, you know, put clothes on myself high basic hygiene. 

25:12
I and I can kind of show up and go through a day without one-to-one support. If you meet those standards, then usually assuming there's a fit what we would do once looking at that paperwork have you come for a three-day visit? We call it a PEV. There we kind of really get to know you a little bit better, see what the fit is, and then after that we'd offer enrollment. 

25:36 - jeff (Host)
And that's you, the individual, as well as the support system, the parents, the guardian, whatever it happens to be, who's working with that student? 

25:44 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, the parent guardian would probably come for a tour, get to know it. The parent wouldn't be there for the three days, so really, what we try to do is have that individual alone for three days to kind of see what we're working with without intervention. 

25:59 - jeff (Host)
Or influence yeah exactly. Or support yeah exactly. Really, he's okay, this never happens at home, yeah. 

26:07 - erin (Guest)
And so that's a really helpful step. And then from that our instructors all put in their assessment and we kind of gauge hey, is this going to work? Is this? 

26:15 - jeff (Host)
not going to work. 

26:16 - erin (Guest)
Are they ready? They're not ready. Are there areas where they're ready? It might be like, hey, you're not quite ready for the dorms, but you can engage in the day program. 

26:24 - jeff (Host)
You mentioned instructors. Tell me a little bit about the instructors. How many people do you have employed? 

26:29 - erin (Guest)
We're about at 70 now, Wow that's a lot of people. Yeah, so we have some support at nighttime, but we're supporting 24're, we're supporting 24 seven. We have instructors there all weekend. We have instructors during the day. We have a second shift in the evening and it's a mix, so probably half of our instructors. It's hard because of our kind of the uniqueness of the, the offerings that we have for the program. There's not really good educational models to have like a college degree in in what we do at the end of the day. 

27:01
So for the most part we either say like you have a bachelor's or kind of similar experience in either a field of disability and or an expertise in the area that we're hiring for, ie metals or wood or movement of some level, and then try to scale our staff up in working with autism, disabilities et cetera. So predominantly it's you know, there's a there's probably a number of our employees who are in process of college and like, let's say, as an ILS instructor, it's not a bad job to work on the weekends, you know, make some money and then you go to college during the week. 

27:40 - jeff (Host)
But most of the benefit of us who don't know ILS oh yeah, excuse me, yeah, independent living skills Got it and so yeah. 

27:47 - erin (Guest)
So some of our independent living skills instructors, you know, are in college and school, so they get hired for like an overnight shift or a weekend shift or a weekend shift. But then most of our weekday instructors, particularly in the day program, all have been doing this for five years or have a bachelor's in something or higher level education. And then do you? 

28:06 - jeff (Host)
have higher, higher level for some of the therapies that you work with, or is that necessarily not something you get into there? 

28:15 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, we don't get into it particularly Maristem, but we do like, for example, into there. Yeah, we don't get into it particularly Maristem, but we do like, for example, have an art therapist who operates on our campus. We have good relationships with families to where we can get information from their psychologists and have back and forth dialogue with them so that they can give us information and we can set up supports. Eventually, I think we'd love to have more of those therapists with that higher level degree, you know, like a registered dietitian, an OT, et cetera. Ot is Occupational therapist. Thank, you. 

28:46
Physical therapist? Yeah, a few of those. 

28:48 - jeff (Host)
Everybody's got their acronyms. Yeah, I know it's crazy, we don't all know them all. 

28:52 - erin (Guest)
There's a lot of them especially there's a few communities that love their acronyms. 

28:55
I feel, like disability community is one of those. Yeah, so we'd love to get there, but the way the so what makes Maristem, I think, a therapeutic educational program is the design of it and it's the system that provides the therapy. And so as an instructor, I just need to implement kind of the curriculum that I'm implementing. But the holistic design of it all is what steps somebody through their re-stepping process of developmental stages, and so we're able to accomplish that with the system, and then, as different interventions are needed, we can suggest hey, talk to this type of person. 

29:34 - jeff (Host)
Sure, before we get into the next question, give me an example. I'm sure you have some really interesting characters, and I mean that in the kindest way and the neatest way. Yeah, somebody that's gone through the program is successful on the outside. 

29:52 - erin (Guest)
Share a story good ones, I mean. I'll start with Harry, who started as a Maristem student, went through Maristem, then got a job. After Maristem became a job coach and then came back to Maristem as basically the face of transformative autism program. And so he's the one now going out to presentations of hundreds of people about how employers can integrate adults with autism into the workforce, and look, I'm one of them. 

30:23 - jeff (Host)
Exactly Right. 

30:24 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, he starts there and he, you know he's still autistic, you can tell, like, just who he is, but he does it and it's. That's a pretty awesome story. 

30:31 - jeff (Host)
And and Harry also co-hosts a podcast with you that you do for the school, if I'm not mistaken, a hundred percent, yep, yeah. 

30:37 - erin (Guest)
Voices of the community podcast you do for the school, if I'm not mistaken, 100%. Yep, yeah, voices of the Community podcast. We talk about workforce and work-related topics and interview kind of the journey of different students and other employers and kind of how it's been so yeah, that's a great story. 

30:50 - jeff (Host)
So people can actually listen to the podcast and hear Harry if they want to say. Well, no, what's he talking about? 

30:55 - erin (Guest)
I hear how this guy yeah, yeah, you, you can hear and it's a great testimony to engagement. Yeah, 100%. Yeah, it works. At the end. In many ways I think there's just for well. Another really good story also on our podcast is Ben Lewis. Maristem student tried college before Maristem couldn't do. It came to. Maristem actually finished. Maristem worked on the land for two years at Maristem then was like I'm ready to go on my own, went back to college. In doing college he realized I can do this, but I don't want to do this. 

31:36 - jeff (Host)
I choose not to. 

31:37 - erin (Guest)
And now he could consciously say it's not that I can't do it, but I have the capacity to. I I don't want to do this, I choose not to. And now, like he could consciously say, it's not that I can't do it, but I have the capacity to, I just don't want to. And so now he figured out a way to get the support that he can get to do an internship, to work on the land a couple days a week, and then he does other work other days a week at Maristem and just kind of looking for the next best thing. So that's another really kind of cool story. 

32:07 - jeff (Host)
I guess the last one, which is really, you know, kind of peripherally Maristem-oriented, not the last, but the next one. Yeah, yeah, we don't want you to have a last ever. 

32:13 - erin (Guest)
Well, I don't think we will. A young man down in the South Bay area reached out to our TAP Transformative Autism Program, which is an online training in which we work with job employers and job seekers, and he was looking for a job and we had just put Oracle through our Transformative Autism Program and then Oracle was like we're in, and we ended up connecting that young man and Oracle together and he did an internship and then he recently just got a full-time job offer at Oracle. 

32:49
And so to me it's like just a great example of you know, we have our campus, but with our transformative autism program we're really focused around the state and that was a nice kind of little picture of how we could help somebody and an employer come together, you know, and it's an Oracle. So it's not just a like you know, I got the bagging job at Raley's, it's like I'm in tech like doing my thing and a full-time job offer as an end, not to minimize that bagging job at Raley's, and they're one of our you know honestly. 

33:17
We have a great relationship. They're one of our best employer, like employer relationships in terms of stepping stones for our students. And again, not knocking the bagging job at all. You know that's it needs to happen. You need those jobs, like we need every job, and it's just. You know, for a lot of our students it's a stepping stone and maybe it's the job that they can do. Yeah, so it's decent pay and they can earn a living wage doing that, which is fantastic. 

33:47 - jeff (Host)
Yeah, the next function that is of significance for any organization nonprofit and even for-profit is funding. How are you funded? And in your case, you've got a multitude of things. You've got housing, which is funding. How are you funded? And in your case, you've got a multitude of things. You've got housing, which is significant, You've got the facility itself and then you've got your programs, so you're a little bit more multifaceted in the things that you need than a single source. Somebody who's not on 13 and a half acres, somebody who doesn't have housing, how do you get funded? 

34:22 - erin (Guest)
So it's challenging and complicated. Our main sources of funding currently are we're vendored with the regional center and regional center is there's 21 regional centers around the state of California and kind of basically vet and assess all the people who are providing services and the clients who are, you know, looking for those services, and then provide funding to programs like Maristem for the services that we provide for the clients that are vendored with Regional Center. So they provide, you know, if you're a regional center client, they will pay for our day program. They'll pay for our ILS support. The only thing they don't pay for is housing and food. In our program we have you know. 

35:15 - jeff (Host)
So does that get paid for by the students' own means in some way? Shape or form the housing? Yes, yeah, yeah, so the parents have dorm in a college. 

35:26 - erin (Guest)
Yep, yeah, so the parents would have to come up with that. It's like room and board at a college, as you said, yep. 

35:31
And then there is private pay, so people might pay for the whole program personally. And then there's what's now a new avenue of funding from the state called self-determination. And so basically, instead, instead of Alta, california and Maristem having a contract where they pay us, basically Alta and the individual come up with a budget that that individual gets. That money is put into a financial management institution and then that individual can say I want to use this money for Maristem, or I want to use this money to go take swim lessons, or I want to use this money for meristem, or I want to use this money to go take swim lessons, or I want to use this money to go get therapy, or something like that. 

36:10
And so they get to have their pot of money, which they determine where it goes, and so we accept self-determination money as well. And then you know, with everything that you described, there's all these aspects of meristem that currently covers, you know, somewhere between 50 and 60% of what we need to operate, and so the rest of it is grants, fundraising, and, you know, praying a little bit. 

36:35 - jeff (Host)
Sure, sure Understood, especially with the budget situation we're about to encounter Totally, you know, in the fundraising part of it. Is there any significant event that you do that's a once a year, that's your big annual or something to that effect that you want to share? 

36:48 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, we have three. In the wintertime it's like November, december we do what we call the Feast of Wreaths and it's a fundraising event on our campus. So we have tables, it's a great dinner. We usually highlight a chef from the area to come and cook or a local restaurant. Last year we had Shangri-La and it's just a fun evening. It's students do some presentations, you get to hear a little bit from parents and you know different people in the program, just about you know what Maristem is and it's just a good evening. Feast of Reason. Then we do Awaken the Possible in the spring. Shout out to Phil Angelides who kind of helps us put that event on, and it's kind of a simpler event. It's more like raising money beforehand and show up and you know a little presentation and gratitude and enjoy some food and hors d'oeuvres and hanging out and then we're a part of the big day of giving, where you know those are kind of our three big ones. 

37:43 - jeff (Host)
Okay, if you take a step back and you're talking to a captive audience now, people who are listening, if they've gotten this, if they have an interest in some way shape or form yeah, or they're interested parents or grandparents, somebody in the family, support of some way shape or form. What would you say is the biggest need you've got? What would you ask them at? 

38:04 - erin (Guest)
you know, at this point, yeah, I mean, fundraising is always huge. Some people can give more, some people can give less. So you know, anything that you can give goes, you know, pulls up and counts. I think word of mouth is helpful Connections, you know, like maybe you can't give, but you know somebody who might be interested, that's huge. 

38:27
We're also starting to build out an endowment fund which would you know, kind of help us just create some ongoing revenue, which makes life a little bit easier. On the fundraising side of things. We run that fund through Sacramento Region Community Foundation who runs Big Day of Giving, and so that fund is there that you can always donate to. Or if you know, long-term, you know you're thinking about your will or something like that, and you want to give some money away Like we, we do the long-term fundraising stuff as well. So you know, think of Maristem, I think to me we always have fund needs, things that you know like cause's tight in the program. It's like our land is a lot to take care of, we need a tractor, we don't have $25,000 to buy a tractor, and so there's this like oh man, we need this, but we can't afford it. There's a lot of those little, those things that you know can help for the program and you can reach out if there's of interest. You know of what, what specific ones. 

39:26 - jeff (Host)
I want to clarify that tractor comment for anybody that's never been to the facility. You know we think you need a lawnmower and you get this little riding tractor like at at Home Depot for six grand. Why does he need a $25,000 tractor? Because if you saw the property you would realize he needs a big tractor with a big mower behind it and something that could probably even backhoe and do some tilling for the property where you're farming it is quite the facility and, if anybody's interested, I would really encourage you to visit the campus, because it's spectacular in so many different ways. 

39:59
And just the calmness that exists there, where you've got the, the shops and the classrooms, so to speak, all the way back to the dorms. And the dorms were impressive. They were much nicer than my college dorm, I can tell you that. And they're they're better maintained from what I saw. So you know, just just such an impressive facility, how does somebody go about getting in touch with you if they're interested? 

40:24 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, info at meristempro. So I-N-F-O at meristem, m-e-r-i-s-t-e-m dot pro P-R-O. That'll generally get it. You can reach out to me directly, aaron. E-r-i-n at meristempro. I am a man and it is E-R-I-N, just if anyone's confused. Yeah, yeah, it is E-R-I-N, just if anyone's confused. Yeah, yeah, those two. We have a website, meristempro. That's a good way to just look up a little bit more information. You send a message to info at set up a tour. We also have a cafe open on Fridays. Stop by grab lunch. Walk around 1130 to 130. Feel free to just kind of be in our community for a little bit. 

41:06 - jeff (Host)
You just mentioned something the cafe is open on Fridays, which is really neat. I want to get a client over there, or two, just for them to experience it and get a taste of something that is different. You can go to Shangri-La, or we can go to Maristem what's your choice and I'll know what their propensity for giving is. I love it. But the other part of that that we didn't touch on and you brought it back to my attention is the students actually make things on campus that you sell? 

41:33 - erin (Guest)
Yeah, and what are some of those things? 

41:34 - jeff (Host)
Yeah, I'm sure it's not a lot of money, but it's something. 

41:36 - erin (Guest)
No, yeah it's little stuff, you know, but you know like in the program. For example, we have an herbal arts CSA. If you go on any of our social media Facebook, maristem, instagram, linkedin there's a link to an Herbal Arts CSA and that's basically like you will get a box of homemade soap, a special handmade tea, maybe a spray like a mosquito spray all made from herbs picked from our land. Put together you can get like a year subscription where you get four boxes or just a one-off. So that's something that some of our students get paid. They're in a paid internship and they create that there's, you know they'll make ceramic cups, for example, and sell those in the cafe, I think that you know. And then some of our students just have small social enterprises. So, like Darren, one of our students, for example, makes intricate ornaments for your Christmas tree and has, you know, hundreds of them that he'll sell at our Christmas fair or not Christmas, our winter fair. That happens in December, and so you can see a mix of craft, craft projects that they'll make. That's neat. 

42:39 - jeff (Host)
That's neat. Well, aaron, the way you're working with our neurodiverse community and the individuals, preparing them for society. It really helps our community so so much. You know. It gives them a pathway, it gives them an opportunity, it gives them hope, gives their parents hope, gives their support system hope that you know that student is going to engage into some semblance of independence. So for what you do at Maristom, thank you so much. We appreciate it, the community appreciates it and you help us be a better place. 

43:08 - erin (Guest)
Thank you, jeff. Yeah, we appreciate your support. Yeah, we love the community and the community has been good to us. So thank you, you're welcome.