"If I told you that Exceptional Minds has a program where 80 percent of graduates with moderate to high functioning autism are working, would you help us scale the program to the next level?" With those words, Ernie Merlán won the Judges Innovation Award at last night's 2017 Social Innovation Fast Pitch held at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
Sherman Oaks, CA, March 23, 2017 (Newswire.com) - Ernie Merlán was one of ten finalists to share his or her organization’s mission in a three-minute pitch that earned up to $35,000 in prizes and grants.
Merlán is the Executive Director of Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit vocational school and working studio for young adults on the autism spectrum who are pursuing careers in digital animation and visual effects.
Instead of living at home with his parents, and collecting disability benefits, he lives independently and pays income taxes!
Ernie Merlán, Executive Director, Exceptional Minds
During his pitch, he spoke of meeting Patrick, a young man with autism who “wouldn’t look me in the eye.” After graduating Exceptional Minds’ three-year vocational program, Patrick went on to work in the Exceptional Minds Studio doing visual effects for major productions such as X-Men: Apocalypse, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Galavant and Doctor Strange.
“At the cast and crew screening of Doctor Strange, Patrick shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, ‘That was my name in the credits!’”
“Instead of living at home with his parents, and collecting disability benefits, he lives independently and pays income taxes!” said Merlán, who asked the audience of 500 social entrepreneurs to help him expand opportunities to others like Patrick through online training and curriculum licensing.
Social Innovation Fast Pitch is Social Venture Partners’ signature program held annually to support social change and innovation in the community. As the recipient of the Judges Innovation Award at last night’s 2017 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, Merlán was given a $5,000 check that will go toward “changing lives one frame at a time.”
More than 3.5 million Americans live with autism, an estimated 90 percent of whom are unemployed or underemployed. Each year, 50,000 children with autism in the U.S. will turn 18 and require public services if they are not employed. Exceptional Minds provides customized education in the digital arts to over 225 teens and young adults and provides ongoing job placement and coaching for 25 graduates.
Source: Exceptional Minds