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Getting the (gum)ball rolling: Program helps special kids learn job skills

Operating gumball dispensers helps teach works skills participants Bubble2Work. State Sen. Michael Hastings (left) D-OrlHills has gumball machine his Mattesoffice.

Operating gumball dispensers helps teach works skills to participants in Bubble2Work. State Sen. Michael Hastings (left), D-Orland Hills, has a gumball machine in his Matteson office. | Supplied photo

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How to help

What: Chicago Easter Seals Half-Marathon/5K

Where: Jackson Park

When: 7 a.m. Sept. 7, half-marathon begins; 7:45 a.m., 5K begins; 8 a.m., postrace party begins

Information: Visit chicagohalfmarathon.com or contact Cindy Nelson at (312) 491-4119 or email cnelson@eastersealschicago.org

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Updated: September 20, 2014 6:03AM



Buying a gumball may seem like an insignificant action in the course of a day.

But it depends where that happens. If it’s at some Southland Walgreens stores, the Matteson office of state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Orland Hills; Pearson’s Bakery in Homewood, or about 15 other locations, then that gumball patron is doing more than satisfying a sweet tooth.

Through the filling and maintenance of gumball dispensers, Bubble2Work provides employment opportunities and helps provide funds to train young people with autism and similar disabilities for employment, according to Kelly Anne Ohde, director of communications for Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago.

“It’s a population that is very challenging sometimes for them to have meaningful work,” Ohde said.

Ohde said Bubble2Work is a division of a successful enterprise within the Easter Seals, Harry’s Buttons, with locations in Tinley Park and Chicago.

Harry’s Buttons, which was donated to Easter Seals by the Engnell family in honor of their son Harry, who has autism, provides employment for people with autism and other disabilities through custom-ordered buttons, magnets, wine glass charms and other ad materials.

Ohde said part of the Harry’s Buttons donation included a number of candy dispensers, inspiring the Bubble2Work concept.

“It’s been an amazing addition to our services,” Ohde said. She said people with autism and similar disabilities and disorders want to be a part of the community just as most people do, and this gives them an opportunity as they work with Easter Seals team members to “reach out to businesses,” make purchases for the machines and perform maintenance of the gumball dispensers.

In turn, the funds provided by the machines go to maintain the businesses and provide services for those in the programs.

Ohde said Bubble2Work was brought “to life” when the national organization Autism Speaks funded the project. She said Easter Seals has received calls from other organizations all over the country who have heard about the concept and would like to duplicate its success.

“It works,” Ohde said. “People enjoy it even if they don’t understand autism services. They understand small business; they understand giving people meaningful work.”

She said the Easter Seals teams have seen a number of “positive outcomes” for the individuals involved, including an increase in self-esteem and socialization skills through interaction with their peers and others while they are out working in the community.

“It’s all just kind of come together and created an identity of its own,” Ohde said.

For more information, visit www.harrysbuttons.com.



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