Why we are Walking for Autism Speaks this year


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My daughter, Izzie, just turned 18 on May 9th.  Eighteen is a special number in Judaism: the 1 and 8 represent the Hebrew letters that mean “life”  (Chai).

Eighteen also means that in the US, Izzie is now considered an adult!  Hard to believe but true.  (As many of you know, our adult children with Autism don’t often behave like adults).  Although she can still be in school until age 21, I have been worrying about her life after high school since she was 12 years old. 

Since the options for adults with Autism are limited, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands.  I had been thinking about Girl AGain for many years but after attending the Autism Speaks town hall on autism employment entrepreneurship in NYC last summer I was motivated to start Yes She Can Inc.. After a 30 year career in corporate marketing I took the plunge into entrepreneurship.  I incorporated Yes She Can Inc. as a non-profit in November and opened Girl AGain boutique in February 2014.

Autism Speaks is supporting other autism employment entrepreneurs – and as soon as I get our 501c3  tax exempt status for Yes She Can Inc. I plan to apply for grants to Autism Speaks too.

To raise money for Autism Speaks I’ll be walking with my team on June 1st at the Westchester Fairfield walk.  This will be our 13th year since we started with NAAR.  We had been Isabelle’s Dream Team  but we renamed our team to Yes She Can to not only represent the name of our company but also the progress my daughter has made.

So I am asking if you would donate $18 in honor of Izzie to our Yes She Can team campaign. 

Follow This Link to visit our web page and help me in my efforts to support Autism Speaks

Marjorie’s page

Yes She Can Team page

Thank You and l’chiam.

Isabelle's Dream Team

Isabelle’s Dream Team. Our first year walking for National Alliance for Autism Research.



Girl AGain hosts American Girl author


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Girls waiting for author reading

Girls eagerly waiting to hear Laurie read from The Traveler’s Tricks

Bagels and Books

Girls gathered on Sunday March 16 at Girl AGain to hear  American Girl mystery book author Laurie Calkhoven read from her newly published book, The Traveler’s Tricks, and to autograph copies.  The attentive audience also learned how Laurie researched the period of 1812 to be able to write authentically about stagecoach travel, and how she works with American Girl Publishing to create stories that are page-turners.  A number of girls were aspiring authors themselves and asked Laurie questions about her writing process.

Our guests enjoyed bagels and cream cheese, bananas and grapes, juice, gluten-free muffins and Hamentashen (a triangle shaped jam filled cookie eaten to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim).

Our Yes She Can volunteers helped to set up the room, arranged the food, greeted guests, took photos, sold raffle tickets, and helped to make sales in the boutique.

Before the reading began one savvy mom came into the boutique to shop for her daughters before the rush.  Many others came after the reading to buy outfits, dolls, furniture, and accessories.  Surprisingly, no one bought one of the new Caroline Abbott dolls (the character featured in The Traveler’s Tricks).  In fact, only one historic doll was purchased, whereas most of the “girls of today” (aka My American Girl) were grabbed up.  One lucky girl took home Chrissa, a girl of the year from 2009.  Since she was only available for one year there are not many of her available.  Chrissa was a girl who was bullied in her new elementary school.  Another shopper with a good eye took home a Pleasant Company Sugarplum Fairy ballet costume, a rare item.

All the parents were delighted with Girl AGain, and as they learned about our mission, they were even more impressed.

Keep up with Girl AGain on Facebook

Author Laurie Calkhoven

Laurie Calkhoven autographing her books

Laurie Calkhoven and Marjorie Madfis

Author Laurie Calkhoven and Yes She Can Inc. President Marjorie Madfis

Happy customers at Girl AGain

Happy customers at Girl AGain

Caroline (doll) listening to story

Caroline is enjoying listening to the mystery about her travels on the stagecoach.

Bagels and Books March 16 at Girl AGain


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On Sunday March 16,  American Girl Mystery Author Laurie Calkhoven will be at Girl AGain to read from her new American Girl book The Traveler’s Tricks and autograph your copy.  Join us for complimentary bagels, muffins, (GF available), fruit and juice, listen to a good mystery and meet other girls who love reading too.   It’s FREE!  Register now.



Caroline Abbott, a 10 year old girl in 1812, is the newest historical character introduced by American Girl. Caroline has an important package to deliver for her father in the big city of Albany. That means a three-day stagecoach trip with her friend Rhonda! The other travelers, including a charming magician and a beautiful young woman with a sad past, fascinate the girls. But when Caroline’s precious package goes missing, she realizes the culprit must be a fellow passenger. Will she unmask the thief in time, or will her promise to Papa be impossible to keep?

Girl AGain is a resale boutique for American Girl dolls and all their accessories. For more information visit our Girl AGain Boutique Facebook page or the Eventbrite site to register (it’s FREE!)

Meet the author


Laurie Calkhoven has traveled by plane, train, car, bus, subway, river raft, and bicycle, but never by stagecoach. She grew up in New Jersey where her earliest passions were reading and writing. Every summer her family drove all the way from New Jersey to Iowa, and she would while away the hours in the backseat by making up stories about the people and places she passed along the way. Today she lives in New York City where she makes up stories for a living. In addition to THE TRAVELER’S TRICKS, she has written four novels in American Girl’s Innerstar University series, including The New Girl and Project Friendship.


Girl AGain is located at 157 South Central Avenue Hartsdale NY 10530 (inside Sweet Heaven Spa)

Girl AGain is operated by Yes She Can Inc., a non-profit dedicated to developing job skills and employment opportunities for young women with autism spectrum disorders.

Learn more about the great American Girl dolls, books, doll clothing and doll furniture that we offer by following us at Girl AGain Boutique Facebook page

The perfect Mitzvah (social service) project


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YSC twitterAre you, your faith-based organization or social service club looking for a unique opportunity to make have a direct impact on the lives of young women with disabilities?

Yes She Can Inc. is a new non-profit organization dedicated to developing job skills and employment opportunities for teen girls and young women with autism. Our first venture is Girl AGain, a boutique where we sell gently used American Girl dolls, clothes, furniture, accessories, and books. The store will employ both people with and without disabilities in an inclusive setting.

We need donated American Girl brand merchandise to sell in our store. We are looking for good condition used or new merchandise. Our employees and volunteers clean the dolls and the clothes, arrange complete outfits, determine prices, display the products, and work on inventory management, marketing, and customer service in the store. We will be developing training programs and processes to teach each job task. The goal is to develop skills and confidence and experience so that Girl AGain employees can be prepared for employment with conventional enterprises.

But it is not only important to help people develop the skills they need to “fit in” to the workplace, it is also important for our whole community to be more accepting and include people who are differently abled in the workplace.

The service project: We are looking for help in collecting good condition merchandise by conducting collection drives.


The person or group selecting this project will need to prepare a plan to include:

method of promoting her collection campaign for Girl AGain

method of collecting donations

arranging to give collection to Yes She Can Inc.

experience working with Girl AGain employees and volunteers

Yes She Can Inc. has recommendations and can assist with this work. This should be a fun and rewarding project, an opportunity to not only provide the basis for work but to also have first hand experience in working side by side with our employees.

Contact Marjorie Madfis, founder and executive director, Yes She Can Inc. at YesSheCanInc@gmail.com or 914-428-1258

Background: This story has been told on previous blog posts. But here is a review:

The challenge:  Less than 20% of adults with developmental disabilities are employed today – that is an 80% UNemployment rate!! (And those that do have jobs are working part time and often for less than minimum wage.) Very few businesses, both large and small, make any effort to hire people with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. Furthermore, many people with autism have skill to perform the job but are lacking the workplace social skills and resilience to keep the job.

The need: There is a need to develop job skills and workplace social skills for people with autism in a safe and accommodating workplace where training is the key mission, rather than maximizing profits. However the training must be in a realistic environment that replicates conventional for-profit retail businesses, and where skill development is transferable to traditional business enterprises.

There is a need for businesses to demonstrate success with employment of people with developmental disabilities, to create models for training and human resource management, and for integration and inclusion with “typical” employees.

The opportunity:  Create a business where there is market demand, product supply and employee expertise, and where we can leverage the expertise to create a differentiated competitive advantage.

Leverage expertise: My daughter and may other young women like her have great expertise in American Girl product line. They know each American Girl historical doll’s story, their outfits including the retired ones, they love to interact with the dolls and read their books. They love going to the American Girl store for tea and shopping. They are very loyal customers and always will be. So like any good business strategy, we will take this passion and put it to work.

Meet market demand: There are thousands of girls ages 3-12 in Westchester County demand for used and lower cost or rare and out of circulation merchandise. And there is a robust secondary market already to meet this demand. What differentiates us is our attention to detail and in the atmosphere we will create in our store.

Acquire products: There is a large secondary market for American Girl; about 100,000 listings on eBay and thousands on Craig’s list as well as merchandise sold at yard sales and consignment shops. American Girl has been in business for more than 25 years so girls who bought AG in 1993 at age 8 are now 28 years old, and have long outgrown their interest. There is plenty of merchandise sitting in attics and basements unused and ready for donation.

Transferable work skills: The beauty of the resale business is that there are many tasks that need to be done and employees can either specialize in what they like best or choose to expand their skills. Micro-tasks include: sorting through donated clothes and created complete outfits (skirt, shirt, jacket, shoes, socks for example); pricing products competitively by comparing prices on eBay; cleaning dolls; researching the doll’s original hair style and styling the doll hair; price tagging the merchandise; shooting photos for Facebook; posting content on Pinterest; logging inventory, and much more. There is opportunity to develop training processes using proven methodologies from education and incorporating technology that can enable self-directed learning, repetition, and progression and reward.

Creating an incubator: The goal is to have many employees have 6 to 12 month employment experiences at Girl Again and then find employment at another business where they can use their skills and have a successful career.

Our store opened in February, 2014. We have been holding workshops at the Madfis home to prepare the merchandise for resale and placement in the boutique. Lots more work can be done when we get more merchandise. And hopefully a larger store where we have a workshop space

We would love your help!

follow us on Twitter: @GirlAGainResale

Like us on Facebook GirlAgainBoutique

Autism Employment Entrepreneurs Conference – part 2


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The best thing about conferences is the networking. I had recommended to Gregg Ireland, the conference host, that we use a social platform where we can engage with people interested in this topic before and after the conference. He liked the idea so I launched a Google + While using “social” for business was expected and even required for me while I was at IBM, I didn’t realize that it was not the norm for most people. In fact, what I miss most about IBM since leaving in July is the ability to collaborate with colleagues, agencies, and partners via technology. I really miss Sametime (The IBM branded chat tool) and the web conferencing tools where during constant conference calls participants always had a running banter in text as commentary to the presentation. Before I left IBM I had introduced and piloted a very cool platform called Vivastream, which enables people who have registered or are just considering attending a conference to begin networking with each other and with the speakers.

We now have about 65 members of the Google+ Autism Employment Entrepreneur community. Then Autism Speaks launched a Linked In group for a similar mission. Perhaps more people are comfortable with Linked In.

And speaking of technology, the conference featured 3 different ventures in the tech industry. I described one of them in part 1 of the conference review.

Aspiritech, is a non-profit based in Chicago, founded by Brenda Weitzberg and her husband Moshe Weitzberg in 2008 and designed around their son’s interests and potential. They provide software testing and quality assurance services. This leverages the strengths of people with high functioning autism: attention to detail, commitment to rules, and affinity for repetitive tasks. I had heard Brenda and Moshe present a few years ago at the Hilibrand symposium and after that tried to generate interest in Aspiritech among a few IBM executives, particularly in the Rational business unit. At the conference I had a chance to share my experience with Chet Hurwitz, who is on the board of Aspiritech, and also a former IBMer.

The third technology business was NonPareil Institute, a Plano Texas non-profit founded by Dan Selec and Gary Moore and focuses on training in software. They have trained 140 students and have a wait list of 600; and they now have 5 full time employees and 26 part time employees all on the autism spectrum. The trainees/employees have produced 5 apps, and a few ebooks.

There were many other businesses that presented – see list below. Links to businesses (bold indicates they presented)

Technology businesses

  • Aspiritech, headquartered in Chicago, which employs high-functioning adults with autism as part of a workforce that conducts domestic software testing and provides other quality assurance (QA) services

  • AutonomyWorks, also in Chicago, which leverages the unique talents and abilities of people with autism to deliver technology services, such as website maintenance, reporting and quality assurance, to companies of all sizes

  • NonPareil Institute in Plano, TX, which provides training in technology services, particularly app development, and employment to individuals with ASD

  • Inclusion Films Workshop in Burbank, CA, which provides vocational training and an entry-level knowledge of film and TV production to adults with developmental disabilities

 Consulting / Social services

  • Autistic Global Initiative in San Diego, whose members on the autism spectrum provide professional and consulting services to a range of industries

  • ICan house Founded by Kim Shufran, she hosts social clubs by age based on need to develop social skills


  • Rising Tide Car Wash, in Parkland, FL, which created a system that breaks the car washing process into 46 distinct steps so families affected by autism can operate car washing businesses

  • Extraordinary Ventures is a non-profit based in Chapel Hill, and operates 5 businesses: laundry service, gifts, bus cleaning, event space, and mailing services.


  • Beneficial Beans, a Phoenix-based café that trains adults with autism spectrum disorders and provides  employment opportunities

  • Stuttering King Bakery, Scottsdale AZ which provides Matt Cottle with the opportunity to bake and sell his creations

  • Waggies by Maggie & Friends, based in Wilmington, DE, which employs adults with intellectual disabilities to bake, package and market all-natural dog treats

  • Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn based in Louisburg, KS, which was started to create an opportunity for Joe Steffy, a young adult with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, to run his own business. Today, the company employs several part-time workers and sells snacks at fairs, craft shows, car shows and events throughout Kansas and Missouri


  • [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ, which operates as a training facility so adults with autism can learn retail job skills and move on to larger companies


  • Roses for Autism in Guilford, CT, which employs adults with ASD who cut, sort, grade and care for the roses grown on a large farm

  • Green Bridge Growers Jan Pilarski and her son Chris launched a aquaponics business in Indiana based on Chris’ great interest in organic farming. (I had a wonderful conversation with Chris at a reception and told him about my brother’s farm, Fort Lauderdale Vegetables, which is a social enterprise.)

Employees from Inclusion Films are producing a video about the conference.

My next blog post will be about a few lessons shared by presenters, and a few of my own take aways.

PS – an interesting blog about this subject by Miha Ahronovitz

Autism Employment Entrepreneurs conference – part 1


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I went to Chapel Hill, NC, to attend the first conference on autism employment entrepreneurship (January 27-29) and joined 150 others from across the country who were business founders (for profit and non profit) , funders, educators, social service providers, and people considering starting businesses designed to employ people with autism

full time employment

The conference was sponsored by the Ireland family who found Extraordinary Ventures 5 years ago. One of their ventures is operating an events space, so naturally we met there. It’s a nice two story building across the street from a shopping center which includes Whole Foods. On the upper level is a large open space for events. Downstairs is where three of their other ventures are housed. We were given a tour of the operations and observed a laundry business servicing the frat houses of Duke and Chapel Hill, a candle making business, and a mail room business. They also brought in a Chapel Hill community bus to their parking lot to demonstrate how their employees clean the city buses, usually done at the depot.

Extraordinary Ventures worked with the UNC TEACCH program to apply the TEACCH methodology to work tasks using lots of visuals to provide step by step instructions. Most of the jobs at EV were designed with their own son’s level of functioning as the baseline; this includes jobs with repetitive tasks and consistent cadence of work. As some workers demonstrate more skill, they are given more responsibility. We had a chance to watch staff at work.

job tasks

The Irelands had two of their adult children helping with the event. Their son with autism came to work for a bit too.

Extraordinary Ventures, a non-profit, decided to take advantage of the college town and hired 5 young adults who wanted to have the opportunity to be entrepreneurs. These young business managers liken it to Teach for America where they dedicate a few years of hands on experience before heading off to business school. They are given the freedom to try business ideas that may fail and have learned to create businesses that fit their employees skills but also meet a market need. They manage the business based on business principals, and lead with the business value, not with the social mission.

For example they discovered that when advertising using Google Ad words, that ads with out the word “autism” pulled better response than ads with “autism”.

Rising Tide car wash is a for-profit business in South Florida. Because of the equipment needed, the land and insurance, the start up costs were extensive – about $3 million. They have been in business for 10 months. Because they created their own very detailed training processes for their employees they learned to not hire people who have had car wash experience. The training process they put their employees through helped to create social bonds, a real challenge for those with autism. They also found that while many people with autism are not motivated by money, that in fact their best employees are. They particularly respond to the tips (which increased when customers were informed of the mission of the car wash) They have a site to share their business concepts: Can Do Biz

 why a car wash

AutonomyWorks is a benefit corporation, a new type of corporation structure that allows executives to make decisions that are in the best interest of the business mission even if it does not maximize profits. The founders chose the for profit approach because they wanted to attract capital from investors. They identified the business opportunity to do work that many corporations have been off-shoring or out-sourcing (ie sending to India, Singapore, or other low wage English-speaking countries). The work includes marketing operations such as website content management, quality assurance, analytics and reporting such as analysis of marketing campaigns, or social media analytics.

They lead with their business mission rather than their social mission and need to be competitive in order to get contracts. Their goal was to get as good as neurotypical but found they are better than NTs. AutonomyWorks requires their employees to delivery a quality product that meets their standards but is flexible on productivity.

To on-board staff they have them job shadow to introduce them to the work, since interviews just don’t work for people with autism. They need to demonstrate what they can do. AutonomyWorks designs their work assignments for the way people with autism learn and work best.

AutonomyWorks management created work instructions with visuals, they apply good management practices including setting clear expectations, providing feedback on performance

Employees have their say

A panel featuring two employees shared their work experience. Patrick who worked in the EV laundry was quite self-aware when he said he can handle change if only one thing changes at a time. He was told he should think of himself like a rubber band that should be stretched, but only so far before it breaks. Another employee who worked in a bike shop talked about turning obsessions into something that is more productive. He said he would like to be able to advocate for people with autism.


Peaks and Valleys

A panel of support staff talked about the great variability between strengths and weaknesses – with high highs and low lows. Unlike the school system which looks for what is broken and attempts to fix that, the work place is where strengths and skills are identified and focus is put on that. Look to apply an employee’s strength to a job task – which may mean defining micro-tasks.

What about girls

In response to my question about any differences between the male and female employees, one of the business managers stated, compared to parents of boys, the parents of girls seem to underestimate what their children can do; they tend to think they have significant limits and the parents are more “protective” of their daughters.

Part 2 to come.

What did you do today?

3:46 am:  woke up worrying about daughter’s education program and her regression due to lowered expectations and requirements, worried about how I will replace my IBM salary.  Thought about opening Girl Again, finding people to work there, and how I will have an income

6:30 am: turned on radio to listen to depressing news on NPR

6:49 am:  reviewed email and social media

7:15 am:  make coffee and empty dish washer, prepare chicken salad for lunch

7:50 am: at desk, respond to email and other work

8: 46 am: put on exercise clothes

8:50 am drive to Zumba class, arrive as they start first dance

9:04 to 10 am – Zumba!  (schivtzing)

10:16 head to New Rochelle to pick up doll clothes

11:06 am back at home office, at desk on call with insurance agent

11:24 am shower as fast as possible, no time to shave

11:40 am set table and prepare sandwiches for volunteers, ask daughter to help and get crap from her

12:00 noon surprise arrival of volunteers who were expected at 1 pm.  Ask them to join us for lunch

12:15 pm  the expected lunch guests arrive (mother and daughter) with cookies

12:30: my daughter becomes agitated and acts out in front of guests.  Lovely.

1:20 pm finish lunch and we move to family room to begin workshop; daughter storms off to bedroom

1:30 pm work with Dani at my husband’s computer, on how to research on the American Girl wiki and eBay; looking for fuzzy sweater.

1:42 pm  Sarah teaches my daughter how to create stop motion videos – they go off into another room while I have to download video software

1:59 pm working on competitive pricing of an outfit with Dani, teaching  how to make a judgement call

2:20 pm: identify more outfits, Dani decides to steam wrinkled dresses, set up new steamer

2:36 pm:  searching for matching shoes

2:40 pm: find another complete outfit and we agree on pricing

3:02 pm  daughter needs to upload video and we view accomplishment

3: 14 pm volunteers prepare to depart

3:30 pm I clean up lunch dishes

3:50 pm I check email and respond; I call Salvation Army to buy shelves I saw in window on Sunday.  They have been sold.  Talk to real estate agent and tell him insurance agent will be calling.  He wants to know the condition of the roof.

4:10 pm Drive daughter to her theater rehearsal  in Armonk.  A Chorus Line will be next weekend.

4:49 pm back at home office responding to email

5:22 pm  put meatloaf in oven, pour glass of wine.  YAY!

5:30 pm respond to email, change password since mom informed me that it seems my email has been hacked.

6:00 pm  planning to work on daughter’s IEP but distracted by social media

6:30 pm informed by husband that daughter wants to stay for second rehearsal so he comes home

6:55 pm  husband and I sit down for meatloaf and mashed potatoes dinner

7:15 pm I am back at desk responding to email, reading responses to request about web hosting options, sharing with my web “team” 

8:13 pm  decide it is time to watch Antiques Roadshow in my pajamas

I can’t remember what happened next.

Update on Girl Again


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Once Yes She Can  became incorporated at the end of November,  I focused on getting Girl Again, the resale boutique for American Girl dolls and all their clothes, furniture and accessories, open for the Christmas gift buying season. I had already acquired merchandise – both through purchases and donations and had held a few workshops with volunteers (and future employees). So I thought I was ready. Kind of.

I had hoped that we would open the boutique, located within a new family spa in Hartsdale, NY, on Small Business Saturday but the spa owners were having their own challenges as a start up. They did not have necessary permits and employees hired. While I had enough merchandise to open, I did not want to put the merchandise into the store until I had a formal agreement with the spa business, as well as insurance.

Businesses like Girl Again retail store need insurance to cover the merchandise and the store fixtures in case of loss due to fire or theft.  We need insurance to cover accidents that may happen in our tiny space.  And we should be covered in case someone has a problem with the merchandise (even though we are not the manufacturer)  We also need to cover the board of directors of Yes She Can Inc. We need to cover volunteer workers in case of accident.  Eventually when we have employees we will need to cover them with workmen’s compensation.

It’s been a challenge to explain the business concept to insurance carriers.  A few of them seem to think this is a sheltered workshop operated by a social service agency.

 A sheltered workshop is a type of employment where sub-minimum wage is paid and employees with disabilities are working in a segregated isolated setting. Employees are typically not trained and prepared to work outside of this environment.  This is a controversial practice.  Some people feel this is still an appropriate practice for people with significant disabilities that they cannot be integrated into the community.  Others believe it is archaic and should be eliminated.  Think Beyond the Label says sheltered workshops do more harm than good.   The Federal government has weighed in on this practice too.

This is the exact opposite of what I want Yes She Can ventures to be. I feel so insulted and misunderstood that what I am creating would be considered a sheltered workshop.

And now for the good news 😀

  • we have over 200 Likes on Facebook for Girl Again
  • we have held 7 workshops with volunteers with and without ASD preparing merchandise and working on social skills
  • we have dozens of dolls and outfits prepared for sale – we even have a few people ready to buy
  • we have a few commitments to mitzvah projects to collect donated American Girl dolls and all their stuff  (let me know if you would like to lead a collection drive – we need more merchandise, constantly.)

This is Monica, a young woman with ASD, only recently diagnosed. She struggled with bullying in school dealing with learning challenges and social exchanges. She has lots of potential, she just needs some experience in a comfortable setting and confidence.