Alvin Green holding box of cookies
Alvin Green displays a box of ready-to-ship cookies on Feb. 7, 2024. Green describes the business as an "online gourmet customizable cookie company" with a social mission: to employ people with special needs. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ
Alvin Green holding box of cookies
Alvin Green displays a box of ready-to-ship cookies on Feb. 7, 2024. Green describes the business as an "online gourmet customizable cookie company" with a social mission: to employ people with special needs. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ

On a recent afternoon, Alvin Green packed cookies over the hum of the refrigerators in a commercial kitchen in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. He gingerly laid out parchment paper at the bottom of a large bin and gave careful instructions to employee Jasmine Glover.

“We’re gonna try to fit as many as we can on here, all right? Looks like we can get about four, OK?” said Green, a 57-year-old with a salt-and-pepper beard and an easy smile.

“Yeah,” Glover responded quietly.

Green is the owner of Al’s Cookie Mixx, which he calls an “online gourmet customizable cookie company. You pick your base — vanilla, chocolate, oatmeal. You go through our list of mix-ins. We say, ‘You mix, we bake, we ship.’ ”

Alvin Green and Jasmine Glover
Al’s Cookie Mixx owner Alvin Green packs cookies for a charity event with employee Jasmine Glover on Feb. 7, 2024. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ

The “we” includes Green’s dozen or so part-time employees, all of whom have special needs — including 26-year-old Glover, who has Down syndrome.

Al’s Cookie Mixx opened in a shared kitchen last fall and employs people with disabilities in his own community. This is personal for him because his son Aiden, 20, has autism, and Green knows the struggle firsthand of many parents of special needs children. They wonder what their kids will do to earn a living once they age out of the educational system. For adults with autism, the unemployment rate ranges from around 40% to 85%, according to various studies.

After working as a caterer for 15 years, Green heeded the advice of his wife: “Combine your two loves: your love of baking cookies and your love for Aiden and his friends.”

With his firsthand knowledge of raising a child with autism, Green understands employing people with special needs takes more than just hiring them and signing their paychecks.

“We want to take into consideration all of their needs,” Green said, listing different accommodations for people with sensory issues, verbal limitations, wheelchair usage and other issues.

“We’re going through the process right now of breaking down every task from start to finish and trying to see where we can fit in our kids,” he said. Aiden prefers sealing the cookie wrappers and putting labels on them to baking or interacting with customers at pop-up events or farmer’s markets.

Disability advocates say businesses like Green’s develop because there isn’t a reliable system of helping people with special needs find and keep jobs.

“We see a lot of these homegrown projects from families or smaller community initiatives,” said Holly Wiese, of the Autism Assessment, Research, Treatment & Services Center at Rush University Medical Center.

Alvin Green, Angela Ferguson and Aiden posing for photo
Green, at right, is pictured at an event on Feb. 9, 2024, with his wife, Angela Ferguson, and his 20-year-old son, Aiden. Photo by Brandon Barbee / Courtesy of Alvin Green

She said young people on the autism spectrum, and those with special needs in general, face numerous barriers to employment — including transportation, the interview process and environmental challenges.

“We see that difficulty in transitioning out of school-based services,” Wiese said. “Folks generally are on this cliff, and many kind of fall off with very little support.”

Wiese cited a study that said more than two-thirds of youth on the autism spectrum did not transition into either employment or education in the first two years after leaving high school.

For Green, this statistic is what he is aiming to chip away at one cookie at a time. He said Aiden understands “this is his company, this is for his future.” But his bakery is also a way for the family to help the community.

When Green announced he was starting Al’s Cookie Mixx, he heard from a number of people — just in Beverly alone — who said “I got a kid, they are sitting at home.”

“The need for employment opportunities is a lot greater than what we can supply right now,” he said. But he hopes to grow his business and be able to hire many more like Aiden and Jasmine.

“Our tagline is ‘Your enjoyment provides employment.’ The more cookies we sell, the more kids we can hire,” Green said.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on X @estheryjkang.

Alvin Green holding box of cookies
Alvin Green displays a box of ready-to-ship cookies on Feb. 7, 2024. Green describes the business as an "online gourmet customizable cookie company" with a social mission: to employ people with special needs. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ
Alvin Green holding box of cookies
Alvin Green displays a box of ready-to-ship cookies on Feb. 7, 2024. Green describes the business as an "online gourmet customizable cookie company" with a social mission: to employ people with special needs. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ

On a recent afternoon, Alvin Green packed cookies over the hum of the refrigerators in a commercial kitchen in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. He gingerly laid out parchment paper at the bottom of a large bin and gave careful instructions to employee Jasmine Glover.

“We’re gonna try to fit as many as we can on here, all right? Looks like we can get about four, OK?” said Green, a 57-year-old with a salt-and-pepper beard and an easy smile.

“Yeah,” Glover responded quietly.

Green is the owner of Al’s Cookie Mixx, which he calls an “online gourmet customizable cookie company. You pick your base — vanilla, chocolate, oatmeal. You go through our list of mix-ins. We say, ‘You mix, we bake, we ship.’ ”

Alvin Green and Jasmine Glover
Al’s Cookie Mixx owner Alvin Green packs cookies for a charity event with employee Jasmine Glover on Feb. 7, 2024. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ

The “we” includes Green’s dozen or so part-time employees, all of whom have special needs — including 26-year-old Glover, who has Down syndrome.

Al’s Cookie Mixx opened in a shared kitchen last fall and employs people with disabilities in his own community. This is personal for him because his son Aiden, 20, has autism, and Green knows the struggle firsthand of many parents of special needs children. They wonder what their kids will do to earn a living once they age out of the educational system. For adults with autism, the unemployment rate ranges from around 40% to 85%, according to various studies.

After working as a caterer for 15 years, Green heeded the advice of his wife: “Combine your two loves: your love of baking cookies and your love for Aiden and his friends.”

With his firsthand knowledge of raising a child with autism, Green understands employing people with special needs takes more than just hiring them and signing their paychecks.

“We want to take into consideration all of their needs,” Green said, listing different accommodations for people with sensory issues, verbal limitations, wheelchair usage and other issues.

“We’re going through the process right now of breaking down every task from start to finish and trying to see where we can fit in our kids,” he said. Aiden prefers sealing the cookie wrappers and putting labels on them to baking or interacting with customers at pop-up events or farmer’s markets.

Disability advocates say businesses like Green’s develop because there isn’t a reliable system of helping people with special needs find and keep jobs.

“We see a lot of these homegrown projects from families or smaller community initiatives,” said Holly Wiese, of the Autism Assessment, Research, Treatment & Services Center at Rush University Medical Center.

Alvin Green, Angela Ferguson and Aiden posing for photo
Green, at right, is pictured at an event on Feb. 9, 2024, with his wife, Angela Ferguson, and his 20-year-old son, Aiden. Photo by Brandon Barbee / Courtesy of Alvin Green

She said young people on the autism spectrum, and those with special needs in general, face numerous barriers to employment — including transportation, the interview process and environmental challenges.

“We see that difficulty in transitioning out of school-based services,” Wiese said. “Folks generally are on this cliff, and many kind of fall off with very little support.”

Wiese cited a study that said more than two-thirds of youth on the autism spectrum did not transition into either employment or education in the first two years after leaving high school.

For Green, this statistic is what he is aiming to chip away at one cookie at a time. He said Aiden understands “this is his company, this is for his future.” But his bakery is also a way for the family to help the community.

When Green announced he was starting Al’s Cookie Mixx, he heard from a number of people — just in Beverly alone — who said “I got a kid, they are sitting at home.”

“The need for employment opportunities is a lot greater than what we can supply right now,” he said. But he hopes to grow his business and be able to hire many more like Aiden and Jasmine.

“Our tagline is ‘Your enjoyment provides employment.’ The more cookies we sell, the more kids we can hire,” Green said.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on X @estheryjkang.