Mizzou alumna starts company to train and employ adults with autism.
Becky Flanagan Llorens was walking through Muir Woods in California when she saw a grove where a tree had fallen and other trees had grown to surround the downed one. When she told her business partner, Teri Walden, about what she had seen, they knew they had figured out what to call their nonprofit. “I loved this idea of helping someone who needs help,” Llorens says.
In September 2013, Llorens, BSN ’79, MS ’83, MD ’92, and Walden, Educ ’01, launched EnCircle Technologies to provide technology classes for adults with autism. Both Llorens, a physician, and Walden, a secondary education teacher, have sons with autism. After the boys graduated from Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, they had few postsecondary options.
“They are severely underemployed,” Llorens says. “We have great infrastructure, university support and business community in Columbia, so we decided we wanted to build something here.”
Because people on the autism spectrum tend to excel on computer-based tasks, whether it’s graphic design, music production or gaming, EnCircle’s courses focus on programming, Web development and office essentials. “We knew that was a skill set we could harness,” Llorens says.
EnCircle now has 10 students and offers seven classes that cost $400 a semester. The goal is for the students to build a portfolio to help them get a job, but EnCircle also hopes to bring in contracts from local businesses that pay the students for their work.
Llorens says it’s been great to see her son create something on his computer without anyone else helping him through it. Walden adds that it’s not just about the technical learning. “Now there’s this space and place where students can relax,” she says. “There’s no fear of bullies or constant competition instead of cooperation.”
Now, the name EnCircle has taken on a new meaning. “Rather than them being the helped, they can also become a helper,” Walden says.