After tragedy struck, Spanakos decided to use her frustration and grief to build enterprises that create integrated employment opportunities for people with special needs.
I had an opportunity to make the worst day of my life become the beginning of something incredible to help Nicholas, his classmates, and many others. I decided to close my husband’s business, sell everything, and use the proceeds from his life insurance to start the Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs Foundation, both located in Port Washington. The Nicholas Center supports individuals with autism to lead full and productive lives in the community. Spectrum Designs Foundation is an apparel customizing business, specializing in screen printing, DTG (Direct to Garment), and embroidery. My co-founders, Nicole Sugrue and Patrick Bardsley, and I experimented with our first DTG machine in my barn and never looked back.
The relationship between the Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs is the perfect example of how business can work with agencies to support employees with intellectual disabilities. Eighty percent of individuals with disabilities are unemployed but very capable of work.
We started with both organizations in the same building, and one DTG machine printing 75 T-shirts a day. I used to pray that I could pay the bills and support our payroll during our first two years but as the saying goes: “build it and they will come,” and so they did.
At the close of 2018, just eight years after opening our doors, Nicholas Center serves 85 families with vocational and community experiences, and Spectrum Designs’ client list has grown to include Uber, Google, NYU Langone Medical Center, Northwell Health, St. John’s University Law School, Town of North Hempstead, and MTA Metro-North. Spectrum Designs has impacted the lives of 70 individuals and their families and created more than 15,000 paid hours of meaningful work for individuals with autism.