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VOA Connect 13: Exceptional Minds


((PKG)) AUTISM – EXCEPTIONAL MINDS

((Banner: Exceptional Minds))
((Exec. Prod: Marsha James))

((Camera: Kaveh Rezaei))
((Adapted by: Zdenko Novacki))

((ERNIE MERLAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EXCEPTIONAL MINDS))

People with autism have some gifts, have some incredible talents that we need to develop. Here at Exceptional Minds what we try and do is figure out what they are good at and make them better at it. We like to say that we are changing lives one frame at a time.

Exceptional Minds is a vocational program for young adults on the autism spectrum, where we teach animation and visual effects. But more importantly, it’s a place where these guys can come learn about themselves and grow and develop in a safe environment, but a very challenging environment.

Well, this great group of parents got together and they said, “We need to make a difference.” And so they came to me. I had a visual effects studio at the other end of town, and they said, “we need your help starting this school.” And I said, “Well, alright, I’ll give you 10 hours a week and that turned into 20, and 30, and 40 and pretty soon I shut down my company and I dedicated myself to just working with these guys here at Exceptional Minds.
((MADELINE PETTI, STUDENT, EXCEPTIONAL MINDS))
I started playing video games around, I want to say 4th grade and never really looked back after that. I watch a lot of animated stuff, mostly Japanese animation. When I started here I was a little nervous. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. In a normal classroom, you just kind of sit there and they lecture at you and you just get more and more bored. Because all you are doing is just sitting there listening. I guess I like coming here because It’s so hands on and we are doing so many different things.
((ERNIE MERLAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EXCEPTIONAL MINDS))

The heart of our program is a full-time 3-year vocational program where they learn to do visual effects and animation and title work specifically for the entertainment industry. But, we also have part-time programs and we have a summer program for younger kids, to kind of get indoctrinated in the kind of things that we are doing here.
The program would teach them not only the technical skills that they needed, but the work readiness skills that they needed in order to get a job. So, we focus on how they look and what their attitude is and organizing themselves, and problem solving on their own.

((MADELINE PETTI, STUDENT, EXCEPTIONAL MINDS))
First year, we learned animation and photoshop. Photoshop is pretty cool actually, you can do a lot of really neat text effects. I am learning a lot of editing and visual effects. And I know how to make a lightsaber. We are all a bunch of people and we kind of like similar things. And we basically just all kind of hang out and be nerds together. And it’s awesome.

((ERNIE MERLAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EXCEPTIONAL MINDS))
Our dream is that we can show other people how to do what we are doing. That they can, in their own towns, figure out ways that these individuals can be useful and have them be a part of society.

((MADELINE PETTI, STUDENT, EXCEPTIONAL MINDS))
Exceptional Minds is a place you can go, and you will be accepted, and you will learn things, and it’s awesome. I want the world to know that I like designing things

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