Visit [words] Bookstore at 179 Maplewood Ave, Maplewood, NJ 07040

When his son Daniel was diagnosed with autism in 1998, Spectrum360 board Vice President Jonah Zimiles could not have foreseen where the future would take his family, but the desire to help his son reach his potential – and to help others – transformed the successful lawyer into a bookstore owner and dedicated special needs advocate.

That store, [words] Bookstore in Maplewood NJ, has become an important part of the community and a place for young adults and adults on the spectrum to receive job training and plan for their future.

Before Words came into being, Jonah and his wife Ellen first had to navigate finding their son Dan an appropriate school for his needs. Six years of searching for the right program impressed upon the couple the need for opportunities in the community for individuals with special needs.

With their son finally settled in school, Jonah and his wife turned to setting up their own futures – Ellen starting her own company while Jonah returned to school to obtain his business degree. But with Jonah graduating in the midst of 2008’s economic downturn, the Zimiles looked closer to home to make a difference.

“We really wanted to help out our community, because at that time there were empty storefronts up and down the street,” says Jonah. “My wife was also interested in doing vocational training, because we had spent six years trying to get Dan into the right school and at that point we didn’t have Independence360. There were adult programs, but very few and bleak setting.”

He added, “Plus, no matter what, we wanted to help people to have jobs.”

Their dream came together when a storefront on Maplewood’s main street posted a sign “Bookstore going out of business – unless somebody buys it.”

Ellen told Jonah: “We should buy it, and you should run it.”

And with that, Words was born. The couple purchased the store, moved it to a larger space down the street, and opened in January of 2009.

In the years since, Words has become a special space in Maplewood, and in the hearts and minds of the autism community. It was in those early years that Leanne Hesse, Academy360 Upper School Transition Coordinator, reached out to the Zimiles asking about providing business instruction to students.

“Sure,” said Jonah, and Spectrum360’s connection with Words was underway.

Since 2009 over 100 students have worked in the store at jobs suited to their needs: from processing cardboard for recycling, labeling merchandise for sale, shelving, and setting up for book signings.

Store manager Lisa Matalon, who has been with the bookstore before the Zimiles purchased it, found she had an affinity for working with individuals on the spectrum. She became the point person for working with schools and job counselors in “Job Crafting” – determining the best tasks for incoming employees – and helping them thrive in their jobs.

More than ten years after opening their store, the Zimiles have met and surpassed their goal to provide opportunities in the community for special needs employees.

They’ve also become an important location for parents and educators, with a large collection of autism books and resources. The store hosts book signings and community meetings in their roomy basement. And the Second Sunday program offers parents and their children the opportunity to explore hobbies and crafts that might interest their child without a big upfront financial commitment.

Spectrum360 is extremely grateful to the Zimiles for their contributions to our schools, from fundraising to vocational training. With their assistance our students and clients are gaining job skills, developing social connections and taking pride in their accomplishments!