When Shelly Henley’s son, Jacob, turned 18, she sat him down with his entire support team and all his friends and family to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life and how they could help make that happen for him. And Jacob said he wanted to be a chef.
At first, Henley says, she laughed. But Jacob knew what he wanted, so they got started cooking to see what Jacob was capable of. His passion for food quickly developed into a complex knowledge of the molecular gastronomy necessary to make amazing gluten-free and dairy-free desserts. And, within a year, Jacob was an accomplished baker at his own bakery, called No Label at the Table.
“No label was going to prevent my son from living to his full potential,” says Henley about the bakery’s name. And she’s lived up to that promise, pouring time and money into a business, always believing her son’s passion for flavor would carry the company forward.
Henley believes there is dignity in having the opportunity to work and care for yourself, and she wants others on the autism spectrum to have the same opportunities to fulfill their dreams that Jacob has had. No Label at the Table employs other adults on the autism spectrum to package and sell Jacob’s desserts, and Henley is committed to making sure she gives career opportunities to as many people living with autism as she can.
“When I give someone a job, I’m not just employing that person,” she says. “That’s a mom at home that can exhale, that can know that their loved one is in a safe supportive place and that they’re doing something positive and proactive for their future.”
Sadly, however, Henley can’t give employment to every special needs person who wants it.
“I get about 30 to 40 inquiries about employment a day. It’s heartbreaking,” says Henley. “It makes me cry in the kitchen.”
Henley is now encouraging other companies to consider hiring employees on the autism spectrum. She may not be able to hire them all, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible for them all to have meaningful employment.
“Hiring someone on the spectrum is the most perfect of situations,” says Henley. “They make the most ideal workers. You have an employee for life, and it’s not just an employee, it’s a great employee.”
Henley says ASD employees like those at No Label at the Table are known for their honesty, loyalty, and pride in their work. Share this story to remind the world that people with autism are valuable and important and deserve to be considered for employment opportunities.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?