Embracing all abilities and creating opportunities

March 14, 2022
See how one family’s big idea to help their autistic son paired with community support has grown into something larger than they ever imagined.

By Rahiel Alemu, Manager, Schwab Community Development

While watching his autistic son Andrew grow up, John D’Eri would often spend countless hours thinking about what would happen when he was no longer there to support Andrew.

Andrew was becoming a very capable young man, but John observed there were virtually no opportunities for him after he aged out of the school system.

John and his other son, Thomas, were inspired to do something about this. If there aren’t enough opportunities for people like Andrew, why not create some?

And that’s just what they did when they decided to buy a 20-year-old car wash in Florida and rebrand it as a company committed to hiring 80 percent of its staff from the autistic community.

Rising Tide Car Wash would be able to employee Andrew and others like him. But to make this vision a reality, John and Thomas needed support.

They connected with Charlie Hammerman, Co-Founder and President of The Disability Opportunity Fund (DOF) who provided loan capital and technical assistance to launch their social enterprise.

What is The Disability Opportunity Fund (DOF)?

In 2007, Charlie and his wife, Nanci Freiman, launched DOF to support innovators like John and Thomas.

As a Community Development Financial Institution, DOF’s mission is to provide technical and financial services to individuals and organizations serving the disability market throughout the United States, with a focus on affordable housing, schools, and vocational training centers.

DOF has grown to $60 million in assets and is now the leading financer in providing much-needed, affordable capital to address the needs of the disability community.

Funding and supporting DOF

In 2019, Charles Schwab Bank’s Community Development Group (CDG) provided a $5 million loan to DOF.

Schwab’s loan supported DOF’s ability to benefit nearly 1,500 people with disabilities and finance over 28 organizations and projects across the United States in 2020.

Paying it forward

What started as inspiration to help their own loved one has expanded beyond what the D’Eri family could have imagined.

The success of the thriving Rising Tide Car Wash led to the establishment of Rising Tide University.

Rising Tide U provides road maps for entrepreneurs who wish to start businesses that empower individuals with autism through gainful employment just like John and Thomas did for Andrew.