Dear Dimitri, Luv Michael

Autism awareness and advocacy

Stefanie S., News Editor

Senior Dimitri D. has been working with the Luv Michael program, a volunteer organization dedicated to raising awareness for autism in the workplace, that was founded on Long Island in 2015.

“Luv Michael” is a non-profit organization that employs and trains volunteers who are diagnosed with autism. It was founded by Dr. Lisa Liberatore, who was inspired to create the program by her son, Michael Kessaris, who always had an interest in culinary arts, however he struggled to find a job due to having autism.

“I really want to be a baker after I graduate from Commack High School and [Luv Michael] helps people like me with autism achieve their dreams to have a job,” said Dimitri.

“Luv Michael” sells two products made from start-to-finish by their employees, Originola Granola and Mocha Granola. Both foods are 100% organic, as well as being dairy, gluten and nut free. These products are sold both on their website and in various stores such as Starbucks and D’Agostino Supermarkets.

“I have baked healthy granola that gets sent to customers… I write thank you notes to the customers,” said Dimitri.

Through the “Luv Michael” program, employees and volunteers called “Granologists” learn how to do culinary jobs in a manner formulated to work best for them. They break down all the procedures and processes allowing all of the Luv Michael employees to efficiently work in the kitchen.

“It’s important to promote autism awareness in the workplace because most autistic people are very good at repetition. If they are given a list of steps, they are very diligent in making sure that every step is done with 100% accuracy. This is important to note that even though they may not present well face-to-face, they do really well in the workplace when given instructions,” said Dimitri’s mother, Melanie D., via email.

There is an 85% unemployment rate for Americans with autism who have a university diploma due to social stigmas and misunderstandings that the public receive from television and movies. According to “Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism,”after age 21, autistic adults lose access to government funded programs and support that provide free public education.

“ ‘Luv Michael’ now has a new program that’s a virtual volunteer program. It’s all about engaging other people on social media to just talk about autism. It’s called the ‘Autism Advocacy Program,’ or the virtual volunteer program. Anyone who volunteers has to have thirty social media conversations about autism in the workplace. They can have it with anyone, and then they capture their conversations and send them over to the ‘Luv Michael’ team… then you earn thirty virtual volunteer hours, and their volunteer hours are recognized by the Presidential Volunteer Service Award,” said Melanie.

This virtual program is offered to people all over the world to get involved in spreading awareness for autism in the workplace. It also offers Google Hangouts with senior granologists at “Luv Michael.” More information on this volunteer opportunity can be found on the Luv Michael website.

“It is my dream to be a baker and work in New York City. It is super hard to train to be a baker because of my autism, but ‘Luv Michael’ is helping me. Now I can get a job just like everyone else at Commack High School,” said Dimitri.🔳