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Capstone @ EnCircle Technologies

This semester, I worked on and completed my capstone project. For my capstone, I had to create an integrated marketing plan for a local company. The company I chose was EnCircle Technologies. This project was one of the biggest and most important projects I have worked on. I feel that it will help me in my career path in many ways.

My work on the integrated marketing plan helped me improve my research skills. When creating a marketing plan for a company, research is important. I already had some familiarity with at least one area of EnCircle’s marketing, but in several areas I had blind spots. My research helped make sure that the marketing plan was attacking the correct areas in the correct ways. Without the research, I may have created a marketing plan that was not suited for addressing EnCircle’s most pressing needs.

The importance of spacing out work and balancing responsibilities was also a lesson that I learned through this project. For the capstone class, there were deadlines for each portion of the plan. They were not strictly enforced, but were there as a guideline. I found that it was useful to stick to deadlines, as it made sure I did not drown later on. In addition, I had other classes with work. I had to use time management to make sure I completed work for all of my classes.

Communication and the importance of understanding the needs and goals of the clients were two important things I learned through this internship. Most of my information about the needs of EnCircle came from communication with Teri Walden. When working with an outside group, it is important to communicate with them to let them know your progress and receive feedback. It is good to know their needs.

The integrated marketing plan has provided me with a valuable major practical project for my portfolio, as well as a major project to add to my resume. Practical projects help show employers a potential candidate’s skills. It makes a candidate stand out from others who do not have experience with such projects.

Finally, I learned that doing a good work, making a good impression, and being bold enough to jump at a potential opportunity can lead to great rewards. My positive work has helped me land an internship here at EnCircle Technologies.

Nicole Ihler-May 24th, 2016

Despair, Determination, Joy – All of the above!

Yes, despair and determination today, but joy was seen at last night’s EnCircle Technologies first annual picnic. Our students and their families mixed in together to be the happiest group of folks I’ve seen in a long time. Around 60 showed up to celebrate EnCircle Technologies after 2.5 years of training adults with autism in tech jobs here in Columbia, MO. We hugged, chatted, laughed, and ate a ton of food. We had a few games planned, but everyone wanted to sit around and enjoy each other’s company (that’s typical for our EnCircle parties – despite the diagnostic social disconnection of individuals with autism). We’re all connected and enjoy our friendships with board members, families, students, interns, and special supportive friends.

It’s times like these I become supremely happy. EnCircle has blossomed into an outpouring of people who have shown up after mine and my co-founder’s idea took legs (and much hard work individually and with others). Our students are learning skills which they have no other space and place to learn.

There is another kind of story that would not be as communal or innovative as what we offer at EnCircle Technologies: typical unemployment (as high as 90%); typical halt of post-secondary learning (65%); dependence upon government money; services that don’t blend hard and soft skill training.

Therefore, I also get concerned. My anxiety about convincing the right people, jumping through the right hoops, being able to fiscally survive despite frugality and affordability for our students – this anxiety becomes intense. Yes, it’s similar to the entrepreneur’s ups and downs. However, it’s also different.

We’ve served 25 individuals. We have more students coming in the summer. We have a place and space that is not offered in other agency settings. We are not about just placement or a blended service that also requires our students to be research subjects.

Our financial picture includes vulnerable individuals.

I have talked to hundreds of people, both governmental, service, and business individuals. We have had a few wonderful supporters and unexpected gifts. But, we’ve also met walls. Money has been going to other groups who are larger and have been around a long time. Vocational Rehab has their qualifications which we’re trying to meet but which will need an investment of about $12,000.00 to fulfill. Audits for a United Way grant costs about $6000. We were just turned down for a charity event that would have helped us handle some of these costs. It’s competitive out there.

Will we survive?

“Hands-down, this has been the best internship I’ve had,” said one of my Mizzou interns; he based this on our mission and people and the sense of innovation we try to bring to the table.

“Without EnCircle, there would not be a place for my son to learn,” said one of our student’s mothers.

“I would be on my computer in my room if EnCircle did not exist,” said one of our students.

“I am so grateful that I don’t have to drive to St. Louis for summer classes for my teenager!” said a mother just this week.

At a recent Rotary meeting, I heard the Mizzou Tiger’s wrestling coach, Brian Smith, speak about his athletes and how they needed to perform with the utmost excellence and drive. I admired his talk, yet I also wanted to share about other individuals who do not get the star attention of athletes with excellence at a Division 1 school. I wanted to speak about the reversal we have to do when we don’t judge a person with how they can compete or win athletically. I wanted to speak about the people who are heroic every day with what challenges they constantly face which do not make them popular, but often rejected. However, it wasn’t the time or place. Plus, like everyone, I enjoyed his talk of spirit, drive, winning, losing; I buy into this too – I just hope we wrestle with the idea that beauty, athleticism, ambition, wealth should be conjoined with compassion, acceptance, serving, love, and giving to something larger than our own trophy.

Joy, despair, determination. I want to have another picnic next year (symbolic of more classes offered, more students served). How would you advise me?

Hello world — meet Elliott. I hope you’re ready for him.

The following is written by one of our former teachers, Joshua Holland. His young son is on the autism spectrum which helps Joshua understand the strengths and challenges of life on the colorful spectrum! With his permission, we are publishing this well-written, descriptive post.


Hello world, meet Elliot.  I hope you’re ready for him.

I’m the proud papa of three boybarians.  Elliot’s my youngest son, who just turned seven in January.  He has two older brothers who are neurotypical.  He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) just after his third birthday.


Autism truly is a spectrum disorder:  the sorts of challenges presented vary widely in manner and severity.  My son’s experience may be different than for other people on the spectrum.

My wife and I knew something was different with Elliot when he was about 18 months old.  His vocabulary stopped growing around that time, and over the next few months he lost most of his ability to communicate.

Today, Elliot is minimally-verbal.  Communication is by far his biggest struggle.  With work, he has made great strides in language skills.  Thankfully, love needs no words.

Imagine being able to understand almost everything you hear, but being unable to communicate back. You try to express what you want, but you don’t know the words to speak, and the people who care for you can’t guess. They may not know you’re asking for anything at all. It’s difficult for me to fathom just how frustrating that must be for him.

And yet there’s Elliot, looking for a way to get his message across time and again. When he lacks the words, he takes my wife or myself by the hand, leads us to what he wants, and “tosses” our hands toward it.

Elliot sometimes has difficulty making eye contact. He struggles with social interactions and his reactions are occasionally inappropriate.  Recently he threw an apple at a classmate who was crying.  He can be in the same room as the rest of my family, and yet so very distant from everything happening around him.

He’s very sensitive to sound.  This can manifest in really awesome ways.  He has perfect pitch and a beautiful, pure singing voice.  He loves music, particularly piano.  Elliot will sometimes arrange his toy cars or colored pencils as if they’re piano keys, then press them and sing the proper note.  He’s also fantastic at imitating sounds.  Going on a car ride with him is sort of like having a little Michael Winslow (“Jones” from the Police Academy movies) in the back seat.

This sensitivity also presents its share of challenges, though.  Picture this: you’re in a restaurant having lunch with a friend. What do you hear? Probably the conversation of your friend, but that’s because you choose to listen. Think about those moments when there’s a lull in the conversation. What else do you hear? Chatter from nearby tables. Mood-setting music piped in over the speaker system. The hum of fluorescent light bulbs. The squeak of a server’s shoe on the floor. The clattering of plates from somewhere in the kitchen. Traffic passing by on the street outside.

Now imagine perceiving all of those sounds at the same volume as your friend’s voice, without the ability to block any of them out. How hard would it be to hold a conversation? There is evidence that many people on the spectrum have an issue processing sound in this way.  It certainly seems to be the case with my son.  It’s hard to get his attention in public spaces.


A typical day for our family begins at 6:00.  I wake up and get my two older boys ready for school.  Before I leave to drop them off, I wake up my wife.  Elliot wakes up just after 7:00 and gets ready for school.  My wife walks him to the bus and helps the driver buckle Elliot’s seat belt.

A paraeducator meets him at his school and walks him to his classroom.  His teacher, along with three other paras, tailors their lesson plans to the special needs of their students.  Routine and structure are helpful, but thankfully Elliot’s usually laid-back and willing to go with the flow.  He loves schoolwork and learning, and seems to enjoy academic challenges.  He responds well to excited verbal rewards like “great job, Elliot!”

Elliot has allergies to gluten and to dairy, so we pack him a lunch every day.  His tastes are mercurial:  yesterday’s food obsession is today’s grossest thing ever.  We can generally count on him eating his fruit, with apples being a consistent favorite.  Everything else is a toss-up.

Every day he and a para spend half an hour in a typical classroom setting for reading.  Afterward he joins that class outside for recess.  Elliot is a flight risk.  While he usually plays and has fun, he has been known to try to run away toward the street.  Thankfully his para keeps a close eye on him, and is faster than him.

He wraps up the day in the special needs classroom, then gets back on the bus.  When he gets home he has a snack, and then prepares for one of his therapists to arrive.  My wife and I privately employ therapists who work with Elliot using ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis.  Depending on their availability, Elliot receives two hours of ABA therapy, three times a week.  With the help of this form of learning, Elliot has made great progress.  He also has speech therapy once a week, and used to have occupational therapy once a week to help him with fine motor skills.  In the past he’s also participated in a weekly adaptive swimming course.

After therapy it’s supper time.  We try to hang out as a family as much as we can between supper and bedtime.  He’ll play outside on the swing set with his brothers, or perhaps he’ll repeatedly watch the same YouTube video on his iPad.  Elliot tends to choose a parent to be his “buddy”.  When he chooses Daddy he usually wants to wrestle, and he asks to be tickled.  If he chooses Mommy, it’s as if I don’t even exist to him.

At 8:30 we help him brush his teeth, and we help him put on his pajamas and his Pull-up.  Elliot wasn’t fully potty-trained until age six.  He’s still prone to the occasional accident, and he doesn’t always stay dry through the night.

Bedtime is a negotiation.  Some nights I can tuck him in and he goes to bed without a fuss.  Other nights we give him space to play on his own a bit longer until he climbs into bed on his own.  Now and then he wakes up in the middle of the night, turns on his light, and starts playing.  Most times he’s just loud enough to wake us up, and we put him back to bed.  A few times his play has turned destructive.  He’s managed to flood his bathroom twice, kick a hole in a closet door, and smash through some of the drywall in his room.  We’ve added alarms to his bedroom windows because he climbed out of one at age five.  We caught him before he made it to the street.

They’re not usually that scary, but each day is always interesting.  They may never be “normal”, but they are routine.  We adjust to Elliot’s needs and we get on with our day.  There are plenty of chuckles and tears along the way.


I’ve heard it said that being a parent can make you feel things more deeply than you ever have before.  And as I’ve raised my first two sons I thought I understood that sentiment.  Elliot re-defined those emotional depths for me.

It’s easy to be angry. There’s nothing fair about his diagnosis. My son may never get to drive a car, or go on a date, or discuss politics, or do any of a thousand things that many of us take for granted. My wife and I may always need to be there to care for him. My other boys must constantly make concessions for Elliot, and help us keep him out of trouble.

As a parent I have to think inside of day-tight compartments, because planning for Elliot’s future is terrifying. I worry about how he’s treated when I’m not around. I fear that ignorant people will tease him, bully him, perhaps become physically violent with him. His deficiencies in speech do not equate to an inability to hear, or to understand, or to be hurt by careless words. I wonder if he’ll be able to control his impulses and avoid danger.

My saving grace is that the future is a moving target. I take comfort in looking at how far he’s come.  Thanks to some fantastic people and a lot of hard work on his part, Elliot is making great strides.  It gives me hope to see his progress, and it reminds me that his journey just isn’t going to have a predictable itinerary.

One of my favorite breakthroughs happened a few days ago when he woke up from a short nap.  He looked me in the eyes, gave me this beaming grin, and threw his arms around my neck in a huge koala bear hug.  As I scooped him up, he leaned back and said “Make supper. I want bacon.”  First of all, that’s my kind of meal plan!  But more importantly it’s the first time he’s ever strung together two sentences.  I can’t adequately describe the joy I felt in that moment.  And you can bet that little boy had some bacon for supper!


So world, I suppose what I would tell you about Elliot is that he isn’t broken. He is amazing. He’s clever, and affectionate, and snuggly, and playful. He loves Star Wars and will sing the same song ten times in a row. He’s impulsive and persistent, quick to learn and reluctant to demonstrate, unpredictable and brave, frustrating and sensitive.  He is a little boy and he is autistic.

If you only see my son’s symptoms, then you really don’t know him.  If you try to look past his diagnosis, then you’re missing a large portion of who he is.  There’s nothing “wrong” with Elliot.  He simply is.

April is National Autism Awareness Month.  You may be familiar with some of the statistics.  Today more than 3.5 million Americans live with autism, and its prevalence in this country is estimated at 1 in 68 births.  As a comparison, more children are diagnosed with autism each year than with juvenile diabetes, AIDS or cancer, combined.  According to the CDC, about 1% of the world population is on the spectrum.

To be aware of autism is important.  But why stop there?  We can choose to be compassionate.  We can be understanding and patient when a child on the spectrum melts down in public, or we can choose to be scornful and judgmental.  We can perpetuate ignorance, or we can teach our children that the world is made up of many different kinds of people.

It’s important to look beyond the numbers and see the people whose lives are impacted every day.  It’s caregivers, therapists, teachers and family.  It’s those who face the daily challenges of life on the spectrum.  It’s so many sons and daughters.  And it’s my little boy.

I hope you’re ready for him.




Always, the happenings here at EnCircle!

Student Life:

One of the challenges we sometimes face with our students is that they are tired. All but two of our current nine students have part-time jobs. They work in restaurants, dining halls, retail stores, a doctor’s office, and a mail delivery area. Some have late hours. And, some keep late hours playing video games or watching television. We have several styrofoam balls around and a beach ball; our landlord (the wonderful Missouri United Methodist church) had a couple of men who wanted to bless us with a ping-pong table in a room down the hall. We have used these items as a break between classes. If you are any good, come by and take on one of our students who has beaten all of the volunteer Mizzou students to date. That would wake us all up to see the match. Game on!

New Classes:

We have an exciting class schedule up for the summer: filming, photography, Illustrator, SEO, etc. Check them out here. We come up with our class list by always evaluating a scope and sequence which we set out early. We see if it still jives with what we’re hearing in the industry. We also look at what we need our own student employee team to know as they work on websites or projects. If a company needs something that we could train for, we are open to this possibility. Much learning, many possibilities!

College Support Program:

It’s still going, yet we’re going gingerly. So far 3 college classes have been taken at EnCircle by 6 students. One of our students is currently taking a class, JavaScript, at Indian Hills Community College — they have a super online group of classes for Web Technology. One of our students is taking programming classes at Moberly Area Community College. If any student would like to take a tech college class, we can help support him or her. We still believe in the power of education!

Collaboration & Work Prep

I wrote last time about the collaborative agencies in town. One, in particular, Boone County Family Resource Group, came into our classroom as we met with a student about her launching into work or business. It was part of her WordPress for Business class which included resourcing her. It’s exciting to see “all hands on deck” to help our students thrive!

Video Game Tournament, October 15, 2016

It’s percolating, it’s brewing, it’s going to be poured before we know it! I must say it’s exciting for Joe Chee to take the reins and be our developer/organizer this year. Connor Hall was wonderful last year, and Joe will be too. He has been working at developing a relationship with the local gamers; and, he’s been helping with a sponsor list. Speaking of sponsors, we thank Landmark Bank for being the first to commit. Hawthorn Bank has stepped up second, both with a $500 contribution. Then, just today, two wonderful people from Columbia Insurance Group came by with a $1000 sponsor level check. See all the perks that sponsors can receive, in addition to helping our our awesome students! Let us know if you want more information and to be a sponsor!

I think that’s it. We’ve experienced several good months. The rare space and place for learning continues to open its doors. Thank you for being part of our grassroots mission to provide resources for improving lives. You matter!


Teri Walden

March 23, 2016



Employment Collaboration brings good news!


Yesterday, after reading the NYTimes and the St. Louis Post Dispatch, I had to counter the negativity regarding the NFL and the Rams move from St. Louis.  Even though I’m not much of a Rams fan, having never gotten over the ancient St. Louis Cardinals football team exit, the cynicism and anger overflows from articles, editorials, and social media.

Then, there’s been the Powerball drama going on. Everyone has been floating the dream of what they would do with the millions. One guy even projected that he would buy back a football team for St. Louis. I’ve had my fantasies.

Lately all this strange focus on money has felt like a psychosis of some form. We’ve been wrapped in it, strangulating in a bondage brought about by freakish luck or someone else’s contractual break.

Bothered by this news, and, of course, the usual dire stories around the world, I had to re-focus on what is good, meaningful, and helpful to review. All I had to do was look around at some local collaborative tables I was involved with this past week. Here’s what I found:

The focus: Many groups and people want to find work for the unemployed, especially for those with defined challenges or differences.  Here are the local agencies and people who are doing something about it:

 EnCircle Technologies, training adults with autism in tech skills. One nonprofit I’m more than fond of. I started this with Becky Llorens because of the abysmal unemployment rate and post-secondary options for young adults with autism. Our students love computers and have many skills to offer. We have created a learning community for work skill development without using government funds. www.encircletech.org

Boone County Family Resource Group – a clearinghouse for resources for individuals with disabilities. They always impress me with their efficient and caring leadership as well as case managers who make a difference. In their board room, the wall showcases smiling faces of clients they have helped. You should visit; they are a quasi-governmental agency with funding from Senate Bill 40 which helps improve lives of those with disabilities.

Vocational Rehabilitation – do you know about their incentives that are yours for hiring someone with disabilities? Tax breaks, paid on the job training, job support and follow-up are all available. There’s not a reason to turn away someone referred from Voc Rehab. Getting individuals off of social security income, from state coffers, is their worthy goal.

Easter Seals Midwest – Their Executive Director, Staci Bowlen, and staff, collaborate and support autistic individuals and their families. Easter Seals is in 48 Missouri counties, and, currently, they have a soft skills program underway to help individuals transition from school to work.

The Thompson Center – Yesterday, at a collaborative meeting, Karen O’Connor spoke about their employer training program. No employer should have to worry about what to do after hiring someone with autism. They have it covered and offer this consultation service free to all businesses.

Columbia Public Schools Transition Team formed with parents, agency members, business leaders, and school personnel are all working towards making work a priority for those who often have difficulty getting hired after high school. Caryl Smarr leads this active group of dedicated individuals. They want more local business people to be on this exciting team.

CARE program – This program is one of my favorites. The city of Columbia, along with business participants, finds jobs in the community for underserved youth who need work experience. Stats have shown that work experience bodes well for individuals to get work after high school. The CARE program annually places over 144  participants who have worked in Columbia businesses for a summer or a couple of years. Contact them soon to have paid workers who need job experience.

Services for Independent Living – transportation and such issues are sometimes a problem for our potential employees. SiL helps meet the clients where they need support for work.  Mark Ohrenberg, one of the community key contacts, works diligently to represent those who need resourcing.

Also, agencies like Alternative Community Training, JobPoint, and MoreGroup work hard to bring Voc Rehab referred clients to you. Also, if you went to a Chamber Quarterly Breakfast you might have heard the Columbia Employment Consortium talk about employer training and a website for you to find a potential employee:  abilitiesforbusiness.com .  Easy to access, with benefits for the individual and society.

So, be cheered. Although the Rams are leaving under bitter financial circumstances, and although you didn’t win the Powerball, good things and good people are at work in this world, especially in local communities. I hope you can get to know some and hire a person from one of these agencies. Let me know if you have any questions or need a referral.

And, if you win the Powerball next time, I’m sure the “Who needs it?” can be answered by any representative from the above organizations!

Teri Walden, Executive Director, EnCircle Technologies