Kenneth is biking 108 miles for Expandability, a nonprofit dedicated to creating opportunity for adults with autism.
Kenneth DeGraff is attempting something he’s never done before: a 108-mile bike ride from Baltimore, Maryland to the sandy shores of Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach. And he’s taking on this impressive feat for a meaningful cause — helping autistic adults.
Kenneth knew he wanted to use his journey raise money for autism, and got a little help from his friends choosing the nonprofit that would receive the funds he raised. “I have several autistic friends and I’m aware of the challenges they’ve had adapting to a ‘normal’ society,” he told Mightycause. He wanted to raise funds for organizations working to support the independence of autistic people. An autistic friend connected him with Expandability, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a program of Goodwill of Silicon Valley which is providing training, employment opportunities, and post-employment support for autistic adults.
It was a cause Kenneth felt passionate about, and he knew Expandability was the right fit for his fundraising efforts. “We all need support reaching our goals,” he said. “ “Expandability is helping integrate autistic individuals into the workplace and is providing the support that they and their employers need to thrive.”
“It might not surprise you to learn that that 85% of autistic people of working age are unemployed,” Kenneth wrote on his Mightycause page. “But did you know that about 50% of people with autism do not have a cognitive impairment?” Of those autistic adults with the ability to work, about 40% do not find gainful employment or continue in their education, a study from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia found. Providing better opportunities for autistic adults in the workplace not only helps those individuals gain independence, but it can be a huge benefit to the companies that employ them — many autistic adults thrive at tasks that require focus, attention to detail, and a keen understanding of numbers and patterns.
Expandability’s Autism Advantage program is based in Silicon Valley and trains autistic people for quality career positions in the IT industry and beyond. It operates six-week long training cohorts for autistic individuals around specific talent sets (such as data analysis) and then works to place them in full-time positions upon graduation. Expandability uses its program to sharpen the hard skills of its students (like coding and data analysis), develops the soft skills (like people and interview skills) which will help them succeed, and teaches students how to use their autistic strengths to their advantage.
During each week of training, it welcomes leading corporate executives who coach participants and provide feedback on group presentations. Additionally, Expandability leverages its corporate relationships to provide its students with site visits to companies ranging from OpenTable to LinkedIn. It’s all part of an effort to encourages neurodiversity in the workplace, which Expandability notes not only increases opportunities for autistic individuals but helps corporations to solve for talent gaps. “While a job is the ultimate goal,” Expandability writes of their program, “candidates will be better prepared for the workforce and will meet new people, expanding their network.”
“I came across this great program helping individuals reach their career goals. That connected with me in a deep and personal way,” Kenneth said.
Once he had decided on a nonprofit, Kenneth faced another challenge — how to actually raise the money. With so many options available, people looking to fundraise for charity can face decision paralysis. “That was one of the biggest roadblocks I faced.”
Seeing that Expandability was already set up on the Mightycause platform and using the Mightycause donation widget made the decision somewhat easier. Mightycause’s user-friendly design was an added bonus: “I was thrilled that Mightycause had easy tools for me to use,” he said. “Mightycause’s site made it so simple that I had to use it.”
And with that, he was off to the races.
Kenneth works in Washington, D.C., and started off by asking for the support of people in the office. “I sent one email to coworkers, and have been posting on Facebook,” he says. Most of the support has come from coworkers and friends. He’s raised more than $2,109 of his $3,000 goal and is well on his way to reaching his funding goal by his deadline August 1st.
A visit to Autism Advantage’s training cohort. Photo by John Marble.
But his strategy has mostly been playing it by ear: “What held me back was trying to come up with a Big Plan,” he said. “What I learned was that I just need to do it and play with it along the way, make tweaks here and there, because once you do it and start talking about it you’ll find that it’s infectious and friends will come out of the woodwork to support you and your efforts.”
He’s also made it a priority to stay focused on the mission behind his fundraiser and Expandability’s Autism Advantage program. “I’m thrilled each time a friend of mine gets the message that autistic people can be just as capable as any other adult you know,” Kenneth said. “When they learn that there are small things we can do to accommodate autistic children and adults in our society and help them expand and fulfill their promise, it warms my heart in a way words can’t describe.”
Mile by Mile
When planning for a physical feat for charity, fundraising is only one part of the challenge — the other is training for the physical journey. While Kenneth is an avid cyclist, the 108-mile trip will be his longest yet. He’s been building up to the big ride mile by mile: “I ride with a group of friends on the weekend about 30 miles or so in a day,” he said. “I have gone up to Baltimore and back,” which is a 100-mile round trip from D.C.. “I’ve been slowly building.”
That attitude towards training goes hand-in-hand with his approach to fundraising: “Every dollar adds up, every mile that I do pushes me closer to my goal.”
Kenneth rides from Washington, D.C., to Rehoboth on July 28, 2017.
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