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Evanstonians who cross into Skokie can discover “Mini Man Monkey Brains,” a throwback candy store with many Evanston ties. A recent visitor found plenty of penny candies such as Bullseyes, Super Ropes, Smarties, Tootsie Rolls and gum – plus, cookies, toys and piñatas. A real, old-fashioned video machine has Pac Man, Donkey-Kong and other retro surprises.
But the real eye-opener may be the goal behind the store itself – not money-making but training young adults with autism spectrum disorder for employment in retail.
Gloria Iverson, a special education teacher at Skokie-Evanston School District 65, and her husband, a candy supplier, own this not-for-profit shop, and several other family members are involved: her father, a sheet metalist and master welder, and the couple’s four sons.
Even the name began with the family. When he was younger, the third-oldest child used to walk around saying the name, which he had heard in an Indiana Jones movie. The oldest designed a user-friendly computer program for the cash register and inventory tracking. The oldest three sons work as peer mentors.
The motivation for the store came from the Iverson son who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Though he is now in college, the Iverson parents said they were concerned about what his future would be, so they took her idea for vocational training and developed it into bricks and mortar. “It is a vocational training place for young people that makes lasting social connections and helps them gain acceptance within the community,” Ms. Iverson said.
Many organizations send young people for training and employment to Mini Man, Ms. Iverson said.
“On a weekly basis, I have parents coming in and asking for their child to work here,” said Ms. Iverson.
The two-year-old store has expanded beyond just candy. It now includes an art gallery named “Nixie,” also by the Iverson children. Three studios are available for rent. Nixie will hold art shows for the work at no charge, with vocational students helping with the installation. An exhibit by Evanston native Joseph Kayne will open on Jan. 8.
“Nixie Gallery provides a place for young adults from Have Dreams to practice and implement vocational training,” Ms. Iverson said. Beginning next year, Nixie will also partner with Park School for community service field trips as well as vocational training, she said.
For the Iverson family, Nixie was the next logical step. More are planned. The Iversons are already at work on their next project to pave a road to the future for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder.