Nearly nine out of 10 (85 percent) of people in the U.S. with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed. But nonprofit Creative Spirit has been working diligently to improve that disheartening statistic and help those with IDD get the careers they deserve.
On March 5, the group, which launched during New York Advertising Week in 2017, will host its first benefit gala in New York with proceeds going toward furthering its mission. Money raised during the event will be invested in technologies that can improve ways that qualified candidates can be matched to fair-wage job opportunities at scale. Proceeds will also help Creative Spirit develop a retention program to help keep employees in their careers.
Laurel Rossi, co-founder and board chair of Creative Spirit, told Campaign US that the organization has been hyper-focused on its mission, but it realized over the last couple of years that representation is still one of the biggest issues today when it comes to IDD.
"We don’t see people with IDD enough in pop culture, and the gala is an opportunity to really showcase that we’re talking about," said Rossi.
During the event, DJ Hesta Prynn will kick off the entertainment, and actress/singer Scarlett Burke will perform with a group of Creative Spirit musicians. Some of the biggest companies in media, marketing and technology are supporting the effort, such as Verizon, Diageo, Cisco, Voya, McCann Worldgroup and Omnicom.
In addition to the absurdly high unemployment rate, households reporting a family member with IDD are marked by the highest poverty rate - 32 percent - in the U.S.
It’s not all bad news, though.
Rossi said Creative Spirit has seen "really, really amazing progress" since its foundation. The organization received 50 company and 1,200 candidate inquiries the very next day after it launched - and it even hired one of those candidates to help build its website.
"As soon as we have some of our talents within an organization, we get asked to provide more talent - everybody from a coder to copywriter to someone at the reception desk," said Rossi.
Every person placed by Creative Spirit who was hired a year or more ago is still in their job because of the nonprofit’s model. The organization also helps boost the confidence of those with IDD and allows them to be their own advocates.
She added: "If we can bust the myth around ability, ambition and tenaciousness of our talent, then I think people wouldn’t be so blind to the idea of employing people with IDD. I’m excited about the gala because we’re going to showcase abilities, and we’re going to learn from people with IDD and hear how ambitious they are."