Educational Institutions


Awaken the Possible

aka Meristem

Fair Oaks, CA


Our mission is to provide young adults with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental issues with an integrated learning experience, allowing our students to reach their full potential in work, in living and in their relationships. Using practical skills therapeutic education and transformative movement education as our method, we will also provide work based learning opportunities in the community which lead to long term, sustainable and successful employment.

Ruling Year



Dr. Edmund Knighton

Main Address

9200 Fair Oaks Blvd

Fair Oaks, CA 95628 USA


education, autism, disability





Cause Area (NTEE Code)

Specialized Education Institutions/Schools for Visually or Hearing Impaired, Learning Disabled (B28)

Autism (G84)

Business, Youth Development (O53)

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The nature of ASD as a spectrum disorder requires differentiated, flexible, and permeable vocational pathways. The Meristem method develops executive functioning, resiliency, independence, adaptability, social capacities, self-leadership, and other essential capacities.

Meristem's long-term objectives are as follows:
(1) Provide training in the woodwork, metals, textiles, agriculture, digital media, and landscape maintenance vocational tracks.
(2) Provide comprehensive, integrated, real-world work experiences; incorporate vocational training, technical assistance, and entrepreneurship consultancy in Meristem's community supported agriculture farm, café, bookstore, landscape maintenance, and events management businesses.
(3) Assist entrepreneurs to incubate new businesses and place them into work.

(1) Establish a Technical Assistance Network Hub to develop exemplary businesses operated by ASD entrepreneurs with a network of business and community partners.
(2) Create an Outreach Network Hub to increase awareness of ASD entrepreneurial capacity and assets
(3) Provide technical assistance and advanced consultancy for autism employment training to build capacity in the workforce for social enterprise development.
(4) Establish a statewide network with the business, workforce development, and educations spheres to remove barriers to employment, create opportunities for employment, and employ young adults with ASD.

(1) Establish an Employer Network Hub to engage industry to employ youth on the spectrum.
(2) Use the Employer Network Hub to engage labor to train and employ youth on the spectrum.
(3) Develop employer training programs to include incentive packages, job coaches, business plans, on-the-job training, and paid work experiences.
(4) Employ young adults on the spectrum by removing barriers to employment and providing resources to mitigate regression.
(5) Use Meristem businesses as models of best-practices.
(6) Develop new businesses.

The Meristem program offers services for young adults from 18-26 years of age to transition into mainstream education or the workforce. The Meristem curriculum includes the culinary arts, nutrition, carpentry, woodwork, animal care, textiles, jewelry, metal work, movement, sustainable agriculture, documentary filmmaking, and educational technology. Each student is guided to develop individual pathways through the curriculum according to their interests, needs, abilities and disabilities, and barriers to employment. The Independent Living Skills (ILS) Program includes self-care and safety, nutrition and health, community service, self-determination and advocacy, financial literacy, and extra-curricular activities.

A major emphasis of the program is to provide real-world work experiences with applied classroom training to prepare students for inclusion into the workforce. Graduates of the program are guided and supported to find work. The three-year program is developed out of regional economic contexts and workplace needs. Occupational classroom training, internships, community integrated work experiences, and sustained work placements develop professional skills and social capacities for students to realize their career pathways. The program includes a broad and diverse network of business partners. Employer training programs include how to employ young adults with disabilities, familiarizing businesses with the Meristem program, demonstrating economic returns on investment and the impact of socially responsible business partnerships.

The program is specialized and individualized to address the needs of young adults with ASD and other development disabilities. Therapeutic work is integrated into classroom learning and vocational training. Individual schedules are personalized based on vocational interests, abilities, and disabilities. The program is highly structured, self-paced, and student-directed. Guidance mentors meet with students each week to (a) identify barriers to employment; (b) provide career coaching; (c) and develop personal vocational pathways. A significant component of the mentoring program is to provide specialized therapeutic support services for successful program completion. Research and best practices for this population demonstrate that the development of “soft skills" is fundamentally essential for long-term vocational success.

Students develop a broad range of contextualized professional skills to build confidence, meet critical milestones, and provide real-world contexts. Students discover vocational abilities and remove barriers to employment through mentoring during their on-site work experiences. They complete independent and/or supported work placements in their vocational pathway in the community. Program completion is marked by sustained work in the community.

The Meristem model originates from the Ruskin Mill Trust (RMT) in England. RMT has a long history of experience and success serving young adults with ASD through seven colleges throughout England and Wales. The method has been researched, regulated, and validated having received national recognition and accolades over the last 35 years. Thousands of lives have been transformed through the approach.

The Meristem administrative team represents the highest expertise in the education and disabilities fields respectively. The program's success builds on Meristem's significant organizational assets including (1) decades of experience developing training programs; (2) experience aligning and articulating disability and educational curriculum with industry; (3) experience with employer training programs and workforce preparation; (4) existing networks and partnerships; and (5) demonstrated regional leadership.

The Meristem program boasts proven scalable structures, including aligned curriculum, assessment measures, and highly effective outcomes that have been developed over the last three decades across seven colleges throughout England and Wales. The scalable prototype includes (1) operating procedures; (2) occupational curricula, standards and work processes; (3) therapeutic methods; (4) career coaching; (5) social and life skills curricula; (6) innovative educational pedagogies; and (7) employer incentive packages and training programs.

Meristem’s customized assessment process uses a set of assessment tools we developed to evaluate each student’s practical work, social and communication, independent living, and spatial integration skills, and well-being. Baseline assessments establish each student’s learning profile and career aspirations and inform a personalized curriculum. We use regular formative follow-up assessments to monitor and modify each student’s personalized learning plan as appropriate. We conduct work transition assessments to guide us in preparing students to apply to internships, apprenticeships, and employment. Curriculums are based on best practices documented and supported by program and student evaluation tools. To date, students have demonstrated incremental progress of benchmarks in workforce readiness skill attainment and competencies as measured by these evaluations.

(1) Meristem has provided technical assistance to a teacher training college, a services company, and a production farm, guiding these businesses on how to train and employ individuals on the spectrum. (2) Meristem has successfully provided technical assistance to businesses to train and hire ASD youth. (3) Meristem has provided 5 businesses technical assistance in developing vocational training curricula, assessment tools, and on-the-job training. (4) Meristem has provided technical assistance to establish these businesses as employment training centers for ASD youth. (5) Meristem led legislative efforts (in partnership with Autism Speaks) providing technical assistance to successfully secure priority funding to train ASD youth for employment through CTE funds. (6) Meristem has completed outreach efforts educating 24 businesses on ways to employ ASD youth.

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Board Leadership Practices

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Organizational Demographics

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Diversity Strategies

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