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Trade school for autism community gets new, state-of-the-art facility

TACT trade school
Posted at 7:45 PM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-13 22:47:31-05

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Some of our neighbors can be hit especially hard during tougher economic times, and that includes the autism community.

About 85 percent of people with autism face unemployment, according to Forbes. A trade school in Englewood, however, has been working to change that since 2016. Now, it’s received a major upgrade.

It’s called TACT, which stands for Teaching the Autism Community Trades. It's the only center of its kind in the nation, and as of this week, it has a brand new, state-of-the-art facility specifically designed to be conducive to learning for neurodiverse students.

The reason TACT has this new space, according to founder Danny Combs, is the value it has brought to local employers.

“Businesses that hire our graduates, that normally compete against each other, put aside competing against each other to work together to make this possible,” Combs said, standing in the open garage of the 18,474 square feet space. “All of these organizations are recognizing that the neurodiverse community has so much to offer. All of these companies are supporting the future workforce by helping us to be in this new space.”

Seventy major donors, pitching in more than $4 million in total, helped to buy and renovate the hands-on classrooms and workspaces of TACT, but Combs said the organizations that adorn their wall of donors see the money and labor contributed as an investment.

TACT boasts an 83.3% job placement rate for its graduates, among a community plagued by unemployment and underemployment.

“It’s a lot of space for the students who are working on cars and other things, too,” said Peter Machnik, a graduate of TACT who landed a job with a local car dealership right after completing his courses. “I’m very lucky to have a job because I want to get a car, and when it’s warmer, I’ll find a used car so I don’t have to drive my parents’ car.”

When Machnik studied with TACT, the quarters were much more cramped and the tools less modern. He admits he’s a bit jealous of the facility new students get to take advantage of, but is nothing but thankful for the opportunities his time there afforded him.

Machnik moved to the Denver area in 2020 with his family specifically to attend TACT.

“It makes a lot of difference. It helps the students,” he said of the program and the instructors he learned with.

The fresh, larger space, along with continuing donations from community members and organizations, alike, will allow TACT to bring in more students for years to come. But for founder Danny Combs, who started TACT seven years ago inspired by his own son with autism, the larger lesson is not for his students but for the community as a whole.

“One in 44 people are diagnosed with autism. 5.4 million adults… that’s a big group of people to overlook,” Combs said. “And I think when they see what [our students] can do, and all the value they bring, that they work hard, that they’re reliable… I think it’s eye opening and game changing.”