Tony and Lisa Azzizzo, of Winter Garden, are giving thanks to the team at Axum Coffee for believing in their son, 26-year-old Alex, who is on the autism spectrum, and giving him his independence.
Every Thursday morning, Alex Azzizzo tells Alexa to set his alarm for 8:30 a.m. He has mastered his weekly routine, and he knows the steps he must take to get to his job at Axum Coffee’s roastery in the Plant Street Market by 10 on those mornings.
Alex Azzizzo is 26 and is on the autism spectrum.
“We are so very grateful to Axum for giving our son the gift of a purposeful job in the community,” Lisa Azzizzo said Alex’s employers. “They have made a difference in our son's life by enhancing his independence and quality of living here in Winter Garden. We have never seen him this happy, and our hearts are full of gratitude. Alex feels proud and happy to be a part of the Axum team at the Plant Street Roastery location and the community.”
The blessings seem to keep coming for the Azzizzos, and they know they are exactly where they were meant to be.
The Azzizzos originally discussed moving from New Jersey to North Carolina, but they couldn’t find a community that was a good fit for their family.
Lisa Azzizzo learned Walt Disney World has an amazing program for people with special needs, she said, so they considered a move to Central Florida. Lisa Azzizzo wanted to live in a place she could walk to a farmers market, and that’s how they discovered Winter Garden. They found Oakland Park, the neighborhood in which they live, after chatting with a fellow diner while having lunch in a local restaurant.
The Azzizzos wanted their son to gain some independence, and their new home is just two miles from downtown Winter Garden.
“One of our goals was to find him a job but where he can find a way home and to the job,” Tony Azzizzo said.
Tony and Lisa Azzizzo said they are blessed to have found Winter Garden and are amazed at the kindness, acceptance and faith shown by the people of Axum Coffee.
After they were settled in their new house, Lisa Azzizzo reached out to the coffee shop and spoke to Axum CEO Mike Benn about the possibility of her son getting a job there.
“When I asked Mike if Alex could work at Axum utilizing his ‘coffee shop’ vocational skills, bagging beans and sealing the bags, he didn't hesitate to say yes and was willing to give it a try,” Lisa Azzizzo said.
Alex Azzizzo’s first day on the job was Sept. 14, 2021.
“It was a new door for Axum to enter, as well, since Alex is their first employee with autism,” Lisa Azzizzo said. “Mike, Ivan (Chacon) and Josh (Neal) all worked together to help Alex be successful in his new job at Axum by teaching him his tasks (and) setting up visuals, an ABA job coach provided by family and ongoing weekly communications between the team. The staff at Axum welcomed Alex with kindness, acceptance and patience, which filled my heart with joy.
“The collaborative teamwork truly made a difference in his successful transitioning into his new role,” Lisa Azzizzo said. “Mike and Ivan despite their busy schedules, always find time to answer my text messages on how Alex performed at work each week. Alex, a year later, after months of practice with support, is now safely and independently biking into town and working without support.”
Benn said he jumped at the chance to place Alex Azzizzo at the roastery.
“We love helping people, and (we) help people that are in hard places, and we want to give opportunities to enliven,” Benn said. “And I thought it was great with his family moving to Central Florida and re-establishing themselves. What can we do to help this family? … We had the need for the bagging of the coffee, and he pumps them out. He loves Winter Garden and loves being down here.”
Lisa and Tony Azzizzo practiced his routine and what steps he would need to take on workdays. Alex leaves the house around 9:30 a.m. each Thursday and bikes the two miles along the West Orange Trail to get to work by 10.
Once he’s at work, he prepares about 40 bags of coffee beans, carefully weighing the beans, bagging them and then sealing them.
“We scoop up the beans first, put them on the scale, 12 ounces, and pour in the bag,” Alex Azzizzo said. “Step 4, seal it. Put it on the shelves.”
He works in a small back area, but once he has finished bagging the beans, he ventures out to the counter area to interact with customers.
“I do love working here at Axum Coffee,” Alex Azzizzo said. “I do love meeting people.”
When his shift is done, he texts his father, and the two go to lunch at a restaurant on Plant Street.
FRUITS OF HIS LABOR
Payday is always a good day, and Alex Azzizzo has been saving his money.
“I save to buy anything I want,” he said.
That includes food, video games for his GameCube and passes to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Alex Azzizzo said he would like to work at the theme park one day and he would like to help guests board his favorite ride, Khali River Rapids.
Tony Azzizzo has seen a positive change in his son.
“It’s (had) a lot of different benefits,” he said. “Time management — he knows he has to get up at a certain time and have time to bike to the coffee shop and be here on time. It’s helped with his organization skills — make sure they’re bagged and completed. It’s taught money management. … He knows the money goes into his bank account, and he buys groceries and tickets to Animal Kingdom. Not to mention the social aspect of being in the shop and interacting with customers.”
It has been a blessing for the Azzizzos to watch their son learn to become independent.
Alex Azzizzo had previous coffee shop experience when the family lived in New Jersey, but the job was eight miles away and on a highway, so the Azzizzos drove him to and from work.
“We always hoped he would one day get a job in town and he could walk or bike,” Tony Azzizzo said. “And the cold and snow was always a challenge. … It’s been wonderful, he’s completely independent.
“He gets up, gets dressed, gets his breakfast and bikes to work,” Tony Azzizzo said.
“This job provides our son with a sense of purpose and pride and independence,” Lisa Azzizzo said. “He is part of the community, and everyone at the Plant Street Market is so kind and takes time to say hi. I also have peace of mind knowing my son is safe and in good-caring hands at Axum.”
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