Words owners to receive Spirit Award for autism advocacy

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and funding innovative autism research, recently announced that Marjorie Madfis, founder of Yes She Can Inc., and Jonah and Ellen Zimiles, founders of Words Bookstore in Maplewood, will receive this year’s Caryn Schwartzman Spirit Award. Both organizations were founded in order to train and employ adults with autism. The award, which recognizes excellence in autism advocacy, will be presented at the fifth annual Day of Learning event, ASF’s science conference for the autism community, on Wednesday, April 11, in New York.

The Caryn Schwartzman Spirit Award is presented annually to parent advocates whose energy, tenacity, and commitment to enhancing the lives of individuals with autism best emulate Schwartzman’s. Schwartzman was a loving and dedicated mom, and a tireless advocate who worked with the National Alliance for Autism Research, Autism Speaks and the Autism Science Foundation to raise money, advance autism research and improve the lives of children around the country.

“It was always a dream of my mother’s to ensure that individuals with autism spectrum disorders were given employment opportunities so that they would be productive members of society,” said Allyson Schwartzman, 24, daughter of Caryn Schwartzman and sister to twin brother, Robby, who is diagnosed with autism. “She would be very proud of Robby, who is now involved in a work program, and would want nothing more than to provide employment support for other individuals with autism to do the same.”

“These incredible leaders, who are committed not only to advocating for their own children but for all those with autism, are more than deserving of this year’s Caryn Schwartzman Spirit Award,” said Alison Singer, president and co-founder of Autism Science Foundation. “Yes She Can Inc. and Words Bookstore are exactly the types of organizations we need to jumpstart to help develop the careers of individuals with autism everywhere.”

After 30 years in corporate marketing, Madfis was inspired by her daughter, Isabelle, to establish Yes She Can Inc., a nonprofit organization, in order to help teenage girls and young women with autism spectrum disorders develop transferable job skills to enable them to join the competitive workforce and achieve greater independence.  

Jonah and Ellen Zimiles founded Words with the mission of offering an engaging and welcoming atmosphere for people and families of all stripes to pursue their literary interests. The vocational program at the bookstore has provided job training opportunities for more than 100 young adults with autism. Words has received numerous awards and has been named the best independent bookstore in New Jersey. The Zimiles’ efforts on behalf of disabled customers and employees, especially those with autism, have helped Maplewood become a model community of inclusion, according to the release. The Zimiles have two adult children, Liz, a 27-year-old daughter, and Daniel, a 22-year-old son with autism.

“We are so honored to receive the Schwartzman Spirit Award from the Autism Science Foundation, whose work we have long-admired for its vital role in providing hope and support for autism families,” the Zimiles family said in a press release. “Caryn Schwartzman’s legacy has inspired and energized us to intensify our efforts.”