Big Al’s Best
Milpitas, CA 95035
Name of contact: mother, Joanna Jaeger and son, Alex “Big Al” Jaeger
Phone: 408-946-1609

“many different jobs in small chunks-including garden store, serving lunch at a senior citizen center, work in a food pantry, making toffee and creating/calligraphing greeting cards”

Brief description of “business:” 

Most sites visited in this research study represented a “type” of business, including cafes, a car wash, t-shirt company, sock company, a doll re-sale store, etc. What is unique about Big Al’s is that it is actually a collection of many things. In mother, Joanna’s words, “It is a collection of activities I have pulled together for my son in his adult life,” including a more “traditional job” one day a week job at Orchard Supply Hardware (sweeps, waters plants, takes cob webs down), volunteer work at a senior center serving lunches, and working in a food pantry. Al and his mom also make and sell toffee treats out of their home kitchen; they also make greeting cards (which they sell to local stores on consignment), and they do calligraphy for cards. In addition to the toffee and cards, Alex can also do small jobs like paper shredding, making deliveries, labeling or stamping bags. He does his best when he works for short amounts of time (1-2 hours) and most of the time has the support of a parent or support staff so they can be pretty flexible and look for many little opportunities around their community.

Reason for this approach to work:

Mother, Joanna observes, “Once school ends, there can be almost nothing —waiting lists, no programs, they just go to the food courts to hang out or sitting in front of computer or video games all day.” She tried to continue with as much structure as possible even after school ended. To be sure that he had something to get up for and to do every day. Jobs, volunteer work, household chores, working out at the gym, all were put on the weekly schedule so he would know what to expect. She notes her son’s strengths and his ability to “do things in small chunks.” Mom felt he can do a lot but an 8-hour work day wasn’t for him. Many programs focus on the goal of full time employment and meaningful independence but those goals are a bit out of reach for Alex.   Joanna says her plan has been to focus on “micro local things” since geography and traffic and transportation can huge issues in Silicon Valley.

One idea she has is to create a work force of people like her son who can go in to local small businesses a few hours per week to do things like shredding, filing, sweeping, picking up lunch orders, running errands like going to the post office, and other task-oriented jobs-.  She notes that there are many businesses clustered in one area (a strip mall or office complex) where there might be lots of little jobs that no one is really competing for. Lots of places have those kinds of jobs.  They can go and become a support crew for all the businesses.   If disbursed, one to each business, each employer gets to know the person and his or her capabilities.”  A support person could probably provide support and transportation for a small group of individuals with disabilities and maybe some of those people might end up being hired directly by one of the businesses they support.

How did business start?  (According to website):

“Big Al’s Best was started by Joanna Jaeger to create an opportunity for her son, Alex, to have meaningful work and activities to fill his adult life. Alex is a young man with autism who makes delicious toffee and creates greeting cards and artwork that features his beautiful calligraphy. (Their first product, Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee is made in their home kitchen under their Cottage Food Operation (CFO) license.)
Alex has always had beautiful printing so we decided to expand our products to include greeting cards and art work in addition to the toffee, that features his beautiful calligraphy.
One of the most important parts of this venture is the opportunity it gives us to connect to our community and share Alex’s talents. We have partnered with over a dozen local shops who carry the cards and art work.”

Number of employees: 1

Business Structure/Payment of Employee: Business is set up in mom’s name and it is a family business.  Alex is paid when he completes small tasks

Description of Visit/Interview with mother:  I met Joanna at the senior citizens’ multi-service center near their home in Milpitas, CA.  We met in the garden as Alex, age 25, prepared to serve lunch to the participants who were mostly elderly Asians.  After the interview, I observed Alex in the kitchen, met his job coach, Kelly, then walked across the street to observe the garden store where Alex works an additional day per week.

Joanna was engageable, likeable, forthcoming and very willing to share her experiences and observations.  She shared many lessons learned and expressed a willingness to connect with other parents and business owners involved in similar ventures.  She notes that her past professional training was useful in her work with her son.  “I was a training manager—I know how to do task analysis (think about how we can break down a job or create a system or procedure that will allow him to do it independently)

Lessons Learned/Observations: 

-this array of work experiences help connect Alex to the community (she recounted a story when they were out for pizza and people she had never met came up to Alex to say hi)

-working in shorter, 2-4 hour chunks, are right for Alex and also give Joanna flexibility and respite

-She has found it helpful when looking for job coach/support staff to advertise for a Personal/Family Assistant rather that looking for someone with specific disability experience.  This has allowed them to meet a broader range of people and build variety and flexibility into Alex’s program.

-Basic self-care and management (toileting, hygiene, following simple instructions, not running off) are important to get in place as you prepare your child for employment and other community participation. These simple things can be real barriers to success if not addressed early.

-Really focus on all the things your child CAN do.  So many systems and supports are focused on deficits and needs so sometimes it is hard to shift gears to bring attention to your child’s strengths.  Do an inventory of all the little things they can do, household chores, computer skills, etc. and also note their characteristic that would make them a valued employee or volunteer like attention to detail, reliability, desire to please, etc.  You know your child better than anyone.

-Look at school and in your neighborhood for the little jobs that no one wants to do or don’t get around to.  Each individual task is a job (set up chessboards for one of the teachers in his old school; filed sheet music for music teacher).  Friends and neighbors bring us bags of their papers that need shredding and we charge them $10/bag. Does a dog need walking or plants need watering?  Household chores can translate into jobs outside the home.

-We all need to feel we are making a contribution, have a sense of purpose and awareness of “How am I helping.”   We don’t need to be focused on making our child happy, better to give them an opportunity to contribute to have meaning and purpose in their daily lives. She cites the work of Dr. Peter F. Gerhardt at the EPIC School in Paramus, NJ (, noting the importance of children learning manners early on or this will be in obstacle to employment.  “Our kids are great but when in the work place, a big issue is that they don’t have very good manners or basic social graces—this may seem like a minor issue but it is huge.”

-Many employers might want to hire people with disabilities but are afraid and need to be encouraged and prepared and supported.  Sometimes minor changes in a workplace can make a huge difference in their ability to be successful. Joanna points out that we wouldn’t fire a typical employee for such a behavior or for a “small mistake” like spilling coffee on someone while serving (Alex never has, but others have done this).  Sometimes the reaction is, if a person with disabilities makes a mistake, we never let them have the opportunity to do it again.  I, for one, have burned garlic bread many times!  You would never say I am never allowed to use oven anymore!

-Just do it!  Wherever you go every day (i.e. small businesses), scope it out, talk to people…find or create a job! There are small business owners may have jobs they are not getting to.  The “gig economy” opens up some of these possibilities.  One thing that inspired me was a YouTube video—about a profoundly disabled young man—he was an errand boy for his neighborhood—he went to each shop, and said, “Hello, do you need anything? “ (Post office, pick up dry cleaning… (concierge type services) He became a welcomed and valued part of the community with many people who cared about him and gave him opportunities to be helpful. Maybe even approach your local Chamber of Commerce to see if you can talk to local business leaders about the possibility of giving your child an opportunity to work. Volunteering in the community is a great way to build skills and develop relationships. Churches, parks and recreation programs, non-profits and schools are all good places to look.

[Addendum: “A few things have changed since you were out last summer. Alex’s paid job at the garden center ended because the company closed all the stores. When we learned that was happening I approached the staff at the Senior Center and our local Parks and Rec and said that Alex would have some more volunteer time available if anyone needed any extra help. They ALL responded enthusiastically and now Alex volunteers at the community preschool, the Sports Center, the Teen Center and the Library! I was so pleased at the response and he is now doing even more and interesting little tasks throughout the week.”]

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Rising Tide Car Wash
2970 N SR-7
Margate, FL 33063 (also, Parkland, FL)
Name of Founder/Owner: John D’Eri and Thomas D’Eri
(754) 307-2197

“two car washes in South Florida (Margate and Parkland) which employ 72 people with disabilities out of a total of 92 workers. Started by a father and brother of a person with autism. Father has been a life-long entrepreneur. In addition, Rising Tide U is an online course which ‘provides road maps for entrepreneurs who wish to start businesses that empower individuals with autism through gainful employment.”

Brief description of business:  Two car washes in chain which washes 500 cars a day, 150,000 a year.  Thomas’ brother and John’s son, Andrew has autism. Andrew was on a waiting list for job training when Thomas and family realized, “he will have no opportunities unless we do something!’  Thomas studied business as an undergraduate and his father is a successful lifelong entrepreneur. Thomas figured, “Either the business will work or I will have a great story to tell when I apply to graduate school!”  

How did it start and grow?

It started with a business plan. They surveyed the area and considered such businesses as a cleaners and a juice shop. They ultimately decided on a car wash. They felt a car wash in South Florida, on a road with many stores, had potential for success as a business. They would then find a way to incorporate people with disabilities in to the businesses. As is noted in the “lessons learned” section below, this systemic, research-based approach is very different from some businesses started by “desperate parents” who felt they were running out of time in finding a job for their child. Rising Tide Car Wash has expanded to include the tuition-based Rising Tide U online learning program and the Autism Advantage podcast which has been broadcasting two years and featuring interviews with entrepreneurs who have started similar businesses.

Typical Hours, Compensation, Growth Within the Company:

There are 92 total employees at the two carwashes and 72 have autism. Hours are flexible, ranging from 4 to 9 for all jobs. Starting pay is $8.43 plus tips, which average $2-3 per hour. After a year, there is an opportunity for a merit-based raise to an average of $10/hour. Some people with disabilities are promoted to managers after demonstrating competence in such aspects of the job as using tools for fixing things like broken vacuums.

Lessons Learned/Observations:  

-Do research before opening to determine if business model is likely to succeed

-Don’t start a business out of desperation.  “In this community, entrepreneurship is not traditional entrepreneurship, but desperate entrepreneurship—parents feel forced into it because they feel it is the only solution, and not necessarily based on best practices (as an example, they may say, “my daughter loves candlemaking,” and may move to start a business before seeing if it is a viable option).  It may not be sustainable. Go through rigorous testing to see if it is viable. Find the most financially viable community business and weave autism in to it. Thomas reports that they looked for a “good market, it will differentiate us from others, Andrew can do it, and has good margins.” [Thomas notes that they considered other businesses before settling on a car wash—laundry and dry cleaning, and juices and smoothies as both were entry level and process orientated).  In addition, he notes, “a brother is way more objective than a parent.  “it is not emotional for me. I approach it like a business person. I can look at it more holistically.”

Don’t start a business just because this seems to be the only thing the PwD likes and can do.  (Professor Temple Grandin often says, “We tend to make it ok for our loved one with autism to do their special interest since this is the only activity they have experienced.” Thomas notes, “I learned this and experienced it and it struck a chord.”

-“We underestimated the complexity of the business model we started”—it often takes 3-7 years from the time a person options the property until the doors are open.  [It took Rising Tide 3 years!]. There are things to consider like environmental regulations and other laws.

-There is a need for systematic learning about how to start and run a business:   following media attention after the first few years in business, there were many “inbound questions” from families asking “how do you do it?’  Rising Car Wash turned to the Center for Autism Related Disabilities at the University of Miami and asked them to write a grant, which they received from the Taft Foundation.  They started Rising Tide U and thus far, 18 who have taken the course have started businesses, resulting in 120 jobs created for PwD.

-a “Subscription Model” where people pay for tools as opposed to an entire course may be a useful next step for Rising Tide U.

-There are not a lot of “best practices” out there in the field (there is a need to boil it down to “best dos and don’ts”)

-Funders no longer want to fund social enterprises since there are so many failures.  They now want to pilot programs at bigger, more established companies.

-There are completive advantages to hiring people with autism (see “7 Autism Advantages here:; also, listen to Autism Advantage podcasts).  We need to help businesses understand the business advantages of hiring people with autism.  

-Offer flexible hours (at Rising Tide Car Wash, people work between 4 and 9 hours).  

-It is an interesting time for disabilities employment because the unemployment rate is so low.   Studies are saying entry level jobs ae the hardest to fill now.

-We are aware of issues around Social Security; we sometimes refer people to a benefits planner.  (some take a “hit” on Social Security, but are fine as long as they don’t lose Medicaid benefits).

-We have learned that some of our employees with disabilities from lower income families are the primary breadwinners in their families.

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Original Article at JNS

The Jewish Tennis Project is a nonprofit foundation that seeks to provide participants with the opportunity to train and reach a world-class, competitive level of play, combining tennis instruction with education to instill a connection to Jewish culture and Israel.

Israeli tennis legends Shlomo Glickstein and Shahar Peer continue to represent Israel and the Jewish people on and off the court. The two top players were honored at a series of events in mid-March in South Florida marking the launch of the Jewish Tennis Project (JTP).

The JTP is a nonprofit foundation that seeks to provide Jewish tennis players an opportunity to train and reach a world-class, competitive level of play. The program combines tennis instruction with high-quality education geared to instill a deep connection to Jewish culture and Israel.

The idea grew out of a four-week visit to Hungary by Assaf Ingber, Israeli high-performance coach and former coach of Israeli tennis player Julia Glushko. Ingber spent a summer teaching tennis at Szarvas, a summer-camp program in Hungary that serves 1,600 children from 30 countries in a series of 12-day sessions.

“I heard the kids say what it means to them and how it changed their lives,” reports Ingber, referring to the sense of Jewish identity the participants gained at the camp, immersed in Jewish living and learning. Ingber reflected on his own experience as a child athlete: “When I was a player, all I did was play tennis, only hitting the ball.” He had little time to focus on Jewish culture and identity.

Ingber notes that “the JTP program combines top-level tennis, including the best facilities, atmosphere and tournaments, with a secular and Jewish education.” He is realistic in also noting the need to provide an education for the aspiring tennis players. “Just in case their children don’t become [Roger] Federer or Serena [Williams], they will have a tennis education, and a general and Jewish education.”

Israeli tennis pros Shahar Peer and Shlomo Glickstein with chairman Ian Halperin and founder Assaf Ingber at the Pro-AM event in Aventura, Fla. Credit: Jewish Tennis Project.

The program is part of the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Fla. “It is such a good educational environment with great courts and gyms—and their Jewish identity won’t suffer,” says Ingber. “They won’t have to feel shy, scared or insecure to say they are Jewish.”

The program will initially support five or six students, including two Israelis, which Ingber feels will “help integration and make the program great.” The American students will also hear Hebrew and develop a connection with Israel. The goal of the program is to train 20 to 30 students into high-performance players in the first two years at bases in both Davie and Aventura, Fla. Programs will also take place in Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Brazil, serving a total of 500 young players at all levels. Participants will share Jewish experiences and travel to Israel.

‘Very positive, professional, educational project’

Shlomo Glickstein, who retired from professional tennis in 1988, reached a career-high singles’ ranking of World No. 22, played in all four tennis Grand Slams and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1981, was on hand in Florida to play in a number of exhibition matches, as well as coach local children and greet supporters.

Glickstein served until recently as CEO of the Israel Tennis Association. He was approached by Ingber about potentially getting involved in a number of tennis-related projects. “I thought the JTP program was a very positive, professional, educational project, so I got involved,” he reports. He reiterates the goals of the program: “to give mainly Jewish American kids a chance to get to the top of the tennis world, to get a Jewish education and to connect to Israel. It will also give them an opportunity to connect to all of the Jewish people in Florida and elsewhere.”

Shahar Peer, 31 and five months pregnant, enjoyed participating in the JTP kickoff. “It was an honor to join the JTP at their event last weekend in Florida. I enjoyed sharing the court with Shlomo and coming out to support this important new program to develop Jewish tennis players. It is exciting that there is a program to focus on tennis skills, Jewish identity and connection to Israel.”

Peer reached the highest ranking of any Israeli tennis player in history: Her best singles’ ranking was No. 11; she reached No. 14 in doubles. She won five career singles and three doubles titles on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour. Peer retired from professional tennis in February 2017

Fans were impressed with Glickstein and Peer’s commitment to the new organization—and, of course, with their skills on the court. In a phone interview with JNS in Israel, Glickstein says he “plays sometimes,” noting that “you never forget how to play; it is still in your blood.”

He adds, “I can still hit the ball,” though concedes that it’s “a little harder on the legs. I don’t move as well as I used to!”

Canadian documentary filmmaker, writer and investigative journalist Ian Halperin was one of the honored guests at the March 16 weekend tennis event. He is the author and/or co-author of nine books about such celebrities as Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, James Taylor and Kurt Cobain. He recently served as executive producer of the movie, “Wish You Weren’t Here: The Dark Side of Roger Waters.”

Halperin shares that his father, a Holocaust survivor, had to hide in a hole when he was 6 years old to survive. “When Roger Waters said that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany, I couldn’t stand it.” He made the film about Waters, following him all over North America in the attempt to get “under his skin.”

But the weekend in South Florida was not at controversial. An elated Halperin tweeted a picture with himself, Peer and Glickstein and wrote, “Honored to have played this weekend with top two Israeli players ever, Shahar Peer and Shlomo Glickstein. Jewish Tennis Project #saynotobds.”

Halperin states that “Glickstein is to Israeli and Jewish athletes what Jackie Robinson was to the African-American community!” He was impressed that both sports stars played three hours a day “and didn’t miss a ball.” Halpern describes Peer as “the best volleyer in the game, even at five months pregnant.”

He says the “weekend was monumental and historic,” as it not only brought the top two Israeli tennis legends on the same court, but more importantly, put smiles on the kids’ faces.

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