“Our main goal is to build awareness and acceptance and understanding about autism.”
That’s the premise behind an organization called The Wired Project, according to Chaska High School senior Hailey Salden.
Salden founded the organization with seniors Meghan Blood and Julia Pritchard as a part of a project in their marketing class. Through the online sale of T-shirts and stickers, The Wired Project is raising money to benefit a nonprofit that deals with autism while trying to shed a positive light on the subject.
“With our passion ... for business and desire to make a difference, we hope to positively represent autism in our community and around the world,” Blood said.
According to Blood, they have developed a love for business and philanthropy through their involvement in DECA, an international club of marketing students. In their marketing class this school year, they were given the opportunity to create a project that centers on bringing awareness to a specific topic or issue.
They brainstormed ideas with Jeff Rydland, a Chaska High School DECA adviser and marketing teacher, and decided they wanted to do something to help individuals with autism.
Autism is a personal topic for Rydland.
His 14-year-old son is autistic and over the years Rydland has shared stories about his son with his marketing students, he said. Blood also has been neighbors with the Rydland family for about seven years, she said.
Blood said they got their idea for The Wired Project from listening to Rydland’s stories. The organization’s name also stems from something Rydland told them — that autism shouldn’t be seen as negative because those children are just wired differently.
“The word ‘wired’ as used by our company, conveys two messages. One explains the intricate wiring of autistic individuals’ brains. The other describes the passion an individual feels about a specific interest,” she said.
Rydland said he was genuinely touched when he learned what the girls wanted to do for their project.
“I’m real proud of those girls. They’ve done a great job,” he said. “It was neat that they took up the cause that was near and dear to my heart.”
Salden said they began developing their brand in November and taught themselves how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to design their own logo. Blood said they then met with a few printing companies and settled on Big Frog Custom T-Shirts in Plymouth to get their products printed.
According to The Wired Project’s website, it was launched in January.
“We’ve been running the business out of my basement,” Salden noted.
Blood said they each have a hand in every aspect of the organization, from filling orders and mailing packages to promoting their message on social media.
“With this project we’ve been able to take everything we’ve learned in the last three years,” Pritchard added.
The Wired Project donates 25 percent of its sticker and T-shirt sales to the Global Autism Project, a nonprofit with a mission to “build local capacity to provide services to individuals with autism in under-served communities worldwide, and to address the lack of resources and extremely limited understanding of autism that plagues many under-served populations,” according to the organization’s website.
Blood said the remainder of the proceeds are reinvested in their products. Pritchard said so far, they’ve been able to collect more than $300 to donate to the Global Autism Project.
Blood, Pritchard and Salden organized a school day session called “Wired for Win” on Feb. 11, where students heard from a parent of an autistic child. They also asked students to write what “makes them wired” on a puzzle piece. Blood said the pieces will be assembled in a large picture that will be displayed at the school “to show that we’re all connected.”
They have heard from people in other states such as Arkansas, Texas and Pennsylvania as well as other countries who have shared positive feedback about the project or personal stories about how they’ve been affected by autism. Locally, students have partnered with them as volunteer “student ambassadors” who help get the word out via social media and by displaying The Wired Project products at school and other areas.
“We’ve also gotten a lot of overwhelming support from our peers, parents and community members,” Salden said.
Salden said they believe the shirts and stickers have served as a talking point for people and helps create mutual understanding between people.
“It’s really stimulated a lot of conversations about autism that otherwise would not have happened,” she said.
They would like to continue working on The Wired Project even after they graduate high school and go off to college. In the near future, they want to expand their clothing products to include a spring/summer line, Salden said.
Blood said they’d like to have student ambassadors on different college campuses to help them reach others. They have also talked about going on a mission trip through the Global Autism Project.