When Dr. Lisa Liberatore’s son Michael turned 17, she and her husband shared their concerns over his career options, since their child was diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder.
After cultivating his passion for culinary exploration, the couple founded the nonprofit Luv Michael, which employs more than a dozen Long Islanders with special needs and helps them achieve their aspirations in the kitchen — all by making granola.
“We felt that it was important to look at what his skillset was,” Liberatore says. “He would always love to cut up vegetables in the kitchen of the church we volunteer at. That was basically the beginning.”
With help from a few of her friends, knowing the struggles that people with autism have in finding a job, Liberatore and her husband set out to create a company to help their son and others in similar situations. Employees work three days a week, and opportunities for internships are available for local teenagers.
“A lot of the jobs that are out there for people with autism and other special needs are way below that person’s true intelligence level,” Liberatore says. “With Luv Michael, the company is able to provide a job where people are not only accepted, but also appropriately challenged.”
The dozen employees are called “granologists” for the signature granola they create. Liberatore touts the company’s product, assuring that their granola should not be purchased out of sympathy.
“We want people to know we are a legitimate company with a delicious product available for purchase,” Liberatore says. “We have a full commercial kitchen in Tribeca that gives us an opportunity to practice retail sales.”
She notes that she wanted the employees to be able to create a product within their level of expertise and that they could enjoy tasting.
“We have the best intentions, but I want our employees to be as safe and independent as possible while working,” she says. “Also, the digestive tracts for many people with autism are incredibly sensitive, and require a specialized diet.”
To learn more about Luv Michael, visit luvmichael.com All proceeds go to supporting the organization’s mission.