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Lee Container: Inclusion or Exclusion?

Updated: May 28

When the doctor diagnoses John with autism, his parents, Robert and Layne Varnedoe, are devastated. They describe hearing the news as "a kick in the stomach."

In the decades that follow, Robert and Layne's hearts break as John's special needs compel him to live a life of exclusion. Like other parents with children who struggle with autism, transitioning their son to adulthood becomes a driving priority.

Professionals and laypeople often refer to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as "on the spectrum." Stephen is on the spectrum and is often unaccommodated in the culture. This lack of accommodation often conscripts youth and adults to a life of exclusion.

This lack of inclusion in the marketplace leaves up to 85% of all adults on the spectrum worldwide under or unemployed (Autism Speaks).

This breaks the Varnedoe's heart. They weep because of the lack of opportunity for those on the spectrum like John to thrive and contribute to society.

Robert and Layne become passionate about making a meaningful impact for the autism community. They see the power in early screening diagnosis, access to ongoing, reliable services and support, and creation of significant opportunities for employment for people who are autistic.

As entrepreneurs and owners of a family business, the Varnedoes can't help but ask themselves, can we do something about this?

The Varnedoes begin to think about the story they want to write through their lives and businesses. Using their entrepreneurial skills to help people who are autistic reach their full potential through employment becomes the thing that excites them the most.

The Varnedoes find the seed (purpose) that fuels an explosive enthusiasm for their businesses. They decide to develop "workforce inclusion" with their new manufacturing plant in Iowa. In cooperation with Governor Kim Reynolds and Autism Speaks, they design a workplace where those on the autism spectrum can thrive in their work.

Adults on the spectrum perform best in a four-hour workday. The Varnedoe's company, Lee Container, designs four-hour work shifts to be filled by people with autism. They are allowed frequent breaks in areas where noise is minimized.

The results? These employees on the spectrum have superior attendance, punctuality, and commitment. They are "highly profitable employees," says Robert. The workers are "obsessed with excellence."

The Varnedoes and Lee Container have proven Harvard Revue's findings that:

Companies that employ people with autism, intellectual and/or developmental differences see a myriad of real business benefits, including better morale and improved products, services and bottom lines due to lower defect rates and higher productivity

Lee Container has now teamed up with Autism Speaks and Delivering Jobs to expand to other markets nationwide. Their passion is to create a more diverse, inclusive, and accepting workforce in the U.S.

Creating more employment opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of people with autism who are ready, willing, and able to work in their communities has become the seed (purpose) that fuels the Varnedoes' enthusiasm.

Like the Varnedoes, we all have experiences in life that have the potential to open our hearts to an awareness of a problem. This awareness breaks our hearts and makes us weep. It can also make us leap for joy.

Entrepreneurs that maximize their impact and significance embrace these experiences that make them aware and move them toward being a part of a solution.

Robert and Layne have maximized their impact. They live a life of significance. Lee Container makes a profit, blesses its community, and further advances its purpose.

May God give that to us all.

Harry T. Jones

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