Handcrafted with heart: Artisans with autism create unique accessories

Data pix.

HOUSTON- It's human nature, we all want to go through life with a purpose. After high school, many of us go off to college or start jobs. For some people with special needs, the next step is not as clear and there are not as many opportunities.

Denise Hazen started Aspire Accessories with her son Nick. Their business has grown over the years and its impact has, too.

“Nick was diagnosed with autism when he was 2, and at the time, doctors told me all the things he would never do. It was just never, never, never, never. But the one thing that stuck out in my mind is he said he would never be a contributing member of society and I was like, 'Wait, not on my watch,'" Hazen said.

When he was about 10 years old, one of Nick’s teachers noticed his incredible eye for detail and that got Denise thinking.

“I was introduced to this incredible leather craftsmen named Peter Main and just said 'Is there any way you would tutor Nick?’ And he did and that opened the door for us to be able to create all of this," Hazen explained.

Nick and Denise started with leather bracelets.  When those got popular, Denise hired some of Nick’s classmates and the idea of Aspire Accessories was born.

That was eight years ago and the program is thriving. Now 26 artisans, all diagnosed with autism or a similar special needs, have jobs they’re proud of.

“Being at Aspire is very hard work and wonderful and [I'm] very proud," said Valerie Codrow, an artisan who has been working at Aspire for three years.

Diego Fredes works at Aspire Accessories three days a week and says he is learning valuable job skills.

“I enjoy everything we do; the teachers that they help me gain work experience and I enjoy meeting new people.”

The artisans work two to five days a week handcrafting jewelry and home goods. Not only does it provide a paycheck, but a sense of purpose, which can be a challenge for some after high school graduation.

“All of a sudden, now what? So you have a lot of able-bodied people that want to work that are sitting at home because there aren’t the opportunities out there," Hazen explained.

Thanks to Aspire Accessories, they know what they’re working for matters, you can see it on their faces!

Artisan Caytlin Handley said after a day of work she is proud— very happy and proud.

Their next show is coming up on June 6 at Renovate in Houston. You can also check out their accessories at their work space, which is located at 10694 Haddington Dr., Suite C in Houston.

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