Advertisement
  1. Health

Food truck operated by adults with autism is ready to roll in Tampa

Photos by MONICA HERNDON   |   Times  Ray Lee-Pack, of Tampa, Alejandro Pacheco, of Tampa, supervisor Scott Bartlett, of Riverview, and Remmick Wadsworth, of Ruskin, pose in front of the newly wrapped Artistas Mobile Cafe outside of the Autism Shifts Training Center. \uFEFF
Photos by MONICA HERNDON | Times Ray Lee-Pack, of Tampa, Alejandro Pacheco, of Tampa, supervisor Scott Bartlett, of Riverview, and Remmick Wadsworth, of Ruskin, pose in front of the newly wrapped Artistas Mobile Cafe outside of the Autism Shifts Training Center. \uFEFF
Published Jul. 27, 2018

Artistas Cafe has gone mobile.

After spending seven years inside the Mercedes Benz dealership on North Dale Mabry Highway, the coffeehouse that employs only autistic adults has hit the road and moved out of its static locale and into a food truck named the "Bean Mobile."

Doing so will enable the cafe to better fulfill the mission of educating society that autistic adults are employable, said Vicky Westra, cafe founder, head of the advocacy nonprofit Autism Shifts.

"The Mercedes dealership was an amazing place to start, but we were subject to those who came into it looking for a car," said Westra, mother to a 21-year-old autistic daughter. "Now, we can really get out into the community."

Unlike the dealership cafe that had set hours, the Bean Mobile only operates when its presence is requested at an event.

The truck can be booked through artistascafe.com and will be ready to roll by the start of August.

The Bean Mobile offers drinks such as fruit smoothies and its Artistas Cafe coffee plus snacks like all-natural energy balls.

"Everything we serve is healthy," Westra said. But she hopes the desire for their services extends beyond tasty treats.

"Help us educate the community that people with autism make awesome employees. When people see the team of baristas working efficiently, having an expertise, and interacting with customers, they will realize that someone with autism can do anything."

RELATED: Barista with autism sketches a fantasy world on the back of cafe's receipts.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines autism as a neuro-development disorder that causes problems with social communication and interaction. About one in 59 children is identified with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The severity of autism varies from person to person. Some autistic adults are highly functional. Others struggle with basic communication. But all are employable, Westra said.

What autistic adults need to thrive is just a little extra attention, she said, such as visual training guides and atmospheres that emphasize positive behavior reinforcement.

Autism advocacy groups commonly estimate the unemployment rate among autistic adults is as high as 90 percent.

But Anne Roux, a research scientist at Drexel University's A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, said the true rate is unknown.

"We do not have good data, because it's not tracked at a national level," she said.

Still, unemployment among autistic adults is a problem, Roux said, and the reasons for the joblessness vary.

"Problems occur at all phases," Roux said. "Parents might not expect their child will work. Schools might not refer them to vocational services. Many have problems with the interview process. Navigating workplace dynamics is tough. Organizational skills are often an issue."

And those autistic adults who do find work, Westra said, "often do not (fulfill) their potential. They get a typical job people who are labeled disabled tend to get."

Westra founded her non-profit in 2007. Three years ago, Westra, then-owner of Javamo Coffees, was asked about starting a cafe inside the Mercedes dealership. She countered with hiring only autistic adults, the dealership agreed, and Artistas was born.

The food truck is just one employment option that Autism Shifts provides.

They also have a partnership with home laboratory test provider Destiny Well, which hires autistic adults, including Westra's daughter, for its online order fulfillment.

And through another partnership, Elite Animation Academy trains autistic adults to start their own animation company.

Next, Westra hopes to start a culinary training program and partner with local eateries.

"We find the unique ability of a person with autism and create a pathway for it," she said.

Proof is on the food truck.

Its painted-on coffee bean characters were designed by Russell Wadsworth, one of the truck's five baristas. Usually working alongside him is his brother, Remmick Wadsworth

"I tell the coffee team that they are the shifters of autism," Westra said. "They are shifting the perspective of what someone with autism is capable of."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A new report to the Florida Legislature details the investigation that led to the forced resignations of six Moffitt Cancer Center employees in December, including president and CEO Dr. Alan List. [Moffitt Cancer Center]
    The money came from the “Thousand Talents Program” and went to personal accounts set up in China.
  2. The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. (Times | 2014)
    The chief justice dropped an ‘Okay, Boomer’ reference during oral arguments in the case of a pharmacist who accused the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System of age discrimination.
  3. Six of the 11 Pinellas County Head Start preschool centers found to have mold problems earlier this month are still closed. A few more could reopen next week, but some could be closed longer. [Google Maps]
    Five of the 11 affected locations have reopened, but hundreds of children can’t go back to their preschool yet.
  4. University of South Florida student Daniella Morales, center, gets information from health insurance navigators Lauren Lambert, left, and Dorothea Polk, right, during an event in November at USF in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The state’s decision not to expand Medicaid is one reason for the big number. Still, about 2.7 million people are uninsured.
  5. Century Tower rises at the center of the University of Florida campus, where four medical school researchers recently were found to have had foreign interactions that violated university rules. [University of Florida]
    In a scenario similar to last month’s revelations about Moffitt Cancer Center, four UF faculty members were found to have ties with foreign recruitment programs.
  6. Jami Claire, 62, one of two plaintiffs accusing the state of Florida of sex discrimination because state health plans exclude coverage for gender affirming treatment. [Courtesy of Nancy Kinnally]
    Supported by the ACLU of Florida and Southern Legal Counsel, two women are suing the state.
  7. John Nobel, a clinical perfusionist at Tampa General Hospital, winds up a power cord to one of the hospital's new Organ Care System machines. The devices work to keep donated organs functioning for longer periods of time. [Tampa General Hospital]
    The ice-and-cooler method is giving way to a device that pumps blood, oxygen and nutrients into donor organs during transport.
  8. County commissioners agreed Wednesday to pursue a local ordinance establishing a needle exchange program in Hillsborough County. [C.M. GUERRERO  |  Miami Herald]
    If approved, used syringes could be swapped for free, sterile ones
  9. More than 800 people gathered in 2018 in St. Petersburg to remember the thousands in Tampa Bay who have died from opioid abuse. As bad as the numbers are, the problem is being underreported by the federal government, according to a new study from the University of South Florida. [Times (2018)]
    Routine delays in toxicology results are one reason for the lapse.
  10. Florida health officials say there were nearly 3,400 hepatitis A cases in 2019. (Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)
    As of Saturday, Pasco County had the most cases in the state in 2019, with 414.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement