If you feel guilty eating chocolate, it may make you feel better to know you can enjoy it while helping children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.
At The Chocolate Spectrum in Jupiter, all the money raised by sales goes directly toward various training programs offered by owner Valerie Herskowitz, who works as a volunteer and takes no compensation. A speech pathologist who also teaches at Nova Southeastern University, she started the business in 2016 as an outgrowth of working with her autistic son, Blake.
“It started with making chocolate at home to keep him busy,” says Herskowitz, who is certified as a chocolatier by Canada-based Ecole Chocolat. “Eventually, we had so much chocolate that we had to sell the overflow, and the business grew from there.”
The Chocolate Spectrum operates a retail store on Indiantown Road and also sells products at two satellite locations, in addition to mail-order sales. Their signature items include several dozen varieties of truffles, available individually or as an assortment; fudge is also popular, as well as chocolate-covered pretzels and Oreos and thematic items for the holidays and birthday gifts.
Herskowitz conducts several different training programs for children with autism. “We focus on business skills as well as chocolate making,” she says. “We want to give them a head start on getting a job, so working in a retail setting and polishing their people skills is important. The unemployment rate for adults with autism is between 80 and 90 percent. Our goal is to get them to a point where they are as independent as possible so they’re not supported by society and sitting around watching TV all day.” At least 50 children have graduated from the training programs since 2016; a few have become paid employees at The Chocolate Spectrum, while Herskowitz has helped find other jobs for the majority of her other trainees.
Prior to the pandemic, Herskowitz ran a range of programs at the store, including cooking classes, field trips, and “Open Kitchen,” a drop-in opportunity every Saturday for local children and families to participate in the chocolate-making process. COVID hit The Chocolate Spectrum hard; like other food-related businesses, they were limited to online sales and contactless pickup.
Despite the challenges of the past year, Herskowitz is optimistic. “We’re gradually getting our programs operational again, even if they need to be smaller due to social distancing. One out of every 54 children has autism, and the CDC estimates that five million adults are affected by it in some form. We need to continue to provide opportunities that aren’t currently available in the community.” 6725 W. Indiantown Road, Jupiter Suite 38; 561.277.9886