TeenLife

    How One Bakery Turned Into a Virtual Volunteering Network of Thousands

    Posted May 3, 2022, 10:00 am by Johnathan Kindall

    How Luv Michael Turned One Bakery Into a Virtual Volunteering Network of Thousands

    At TeenLife, we’re dedicated to presenting students with opportunities that not only enrich their lives, but also help them prepare for everything that’s yet to come – whether it be college, a career or something else entirely. Between summer programs, gap years and virtual volunteering opportunities, there’s sure to be something here on our site that helps launch you or your teen into life. 

    Luv Michael, a long-time partner of TeenLife, has a similar mission – one that's also focussed on providing enriching experiences that serve its members long after their teenage years.  

    “Our mission is to train, educate and employ autistic adults,” said Mark Biondi, Head of Development at Luv Michael. “So many organizations tend to focus on autistic children – and that’s wonderful – however those children eventually become adults and a lot of that support goes away.” 

    To fill that gap in resources, Luv Michael opened up a non-profit granola bakery headquartered in New York City, an effort that TeenLife is proud to help promote. The bakery, founded in 2015 by Lisa Liberatore, MD and her autistic son Michael, employs autistic adults from all walks of life, offering meaningful and enriching work to all who work there. 

    Luv Michael Granola

    With culinary work that is process-based and safe, the “granologists'' at Luv Michael are able to craft food that is high-quality, made with care and, most importantly, delicious. All Luv Michael workers are paid $15/hour, and they all receive real, on-the-job training in preparation to receive a food handling license at the end of their employment. 

    A Shift to Virtual Volunteering

    As delicious as granola may be, the world of food products is, as Biondi says, a “race to the bottom.” To sell bulk breakfast food and get shelf space next to a billion-dollar competitor, a company needs to cut costs at every conceivable corner, labor included. 

    To sacrifice the effort and care of Luv Michael’s workers in the name of efficiency would, of course, go against the nonprofit's mission. So while the bakery continued to offer high quality granola and provide work experience for autistic adults, the chances to grow and expand felt local and limited in those first few years.  

    That is until the COVID-19 pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for the company to rethink their model and pivot to a focus on awareness, education and virtual volunteering. 

    “We were working with these amazing individuals every day and preparing them for the world of work,” says Biondi, “but we realized we needed an army of people out there preparing the world for them. So much around autism feels like it's trying to change the autistic person to fit into society. We realized that we had an awesome opportunity to educate volunteers to become an ally and advocate for the autism community.” 

    That’s where TeenLife proudly comes into the picture. 

    Autism Awareness and Education

    Today, Luv Michael has nearly 18,000 volunteers worldwide. At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic however, their volunteering program hardly existed and primarily consisted of an informal program for local students who were looking for National Honor Society hours or something similar. 

    Using TeenLife, Luv Michael was able to connect with teenagers across the globe who were eager to engage in the meaningful and impactful virtual volunteering program that Luv Michael was quickly forming behind the scenes. 

    Luv Michael’s volunteer program is now one part learning about autism, one part advocating for autism acceptance, and one part creating meaningful work for autistic adults. 

    Every volunteer who signs up receives a personal campaign page where, after taking part in an engaging education program, they can direct the people in their lives who they talk to about the topic. No donation is expected or required, but, if the friends or family in the volunteer’s circle are inclined to donate to Luv Michael, they’ll receive a bag of specialty granola from the Luv Michael bakery along with a handwritten thank you note. 

     

    "Luv Michael’s volunteer program is one part learning about autism, one part advocating for autism acceptance, and one part creating meaningful work for autistic adults."

     

    “Something really magical happens,” Biondi says, “because multiple things happen to the volunteer at once. Firstly, they’re being educated about an underserved community that they might not know much about and it changes their perspective and builds empathy. They’re sharing that information with the people in their lives. They learn by themselves but they also inspire people to take an action step.” 

    That support then directly aids the efforts of the New York bakery and charity. 

    Five Luv Michael Bakers

    “It creates meaningful work for the granolgists at Luv Michael, allowing us to further expand the mission.” 

    It all creates a feedback loop of sorts, an ever-widening circle of education, awareness and activism that feeds and expands on itself. It’s a system that TeenLife is incredibly proud to be a small part of, and a perfect example of the meaningful, enriching experiences that we try to bring to you everyday.  

    Virtual Volunteering Opportunities with Luv Michael

    Interested in learning more about Luv Michael? Check out their TeenLife listing HERE to request more information, or visit their website for more.  

    “It’s a great opportunity,” says Biondi. “It has an impact on yourself, an impact on others, and you get to see the results of your efforts – your conversations – in real time.” 

    Check out Luv Michael’s virtual volunteering opportunities or any of the other amazing volunteer options available at TeenLife today! 

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    jonathan kindall headshot

    Johnathan Kindall

    Johnathan currently serves as Content Editor for TeenLife Media. He is an accomplished writer and editor with a passion for the arts.

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