LTO Ventures works to build community for adults with autism


Parenthood already comes with worries, whether it's concerns over education or the dread of someone breaking their child's heart.

But for Mark Olson, there is an additional worry when it comes to his 17-year-old daughter, who has autism.

Since she was adopted when she was 2, Olson has taken steps to acknowledge the fears ranging from predators who might try to take advantage of her to not knowing who would take care of her when he is gone.

"You have sexual predators and economic predators," Olson said. "You have the people who will convince (adults with disabilities) that they are in love so they will transfer their Social Security over."

But there are other problems, such as finding employment for children with mental disabilities.

Instead of fretting, Olson has created a nonprofit that could help him and parents like him alleviate some fears that come along with having a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

LTO Ventures, Olson's organization, is a Henderson-based nonprofit that works with adults with autism spectrum disorders, which includes autism, Asperger syndrome or pervasive developmental disability.

"Our mission is to develop a live, work and play community," Olson said.

Olson added that there five primary issues that adults with disabilities are concerned about: housing, employment, social and recreational services, transportation and money.

Olson hopes to address those concerns with his vision to build a self-sustaining, master-planned community that would provide one- or two-bedroom apartments or duplexes, a 40,000-square-foot recreation space and a 90,000-square-foot business and entrepreneur center. This would be housed on one campus.

"This is a pedestrian-friendly campus, so we don't have to worry about transportation," Olson said. "Plus, you don't have to worry about someone getting hit by cars if they are wandering."

The project is currently just a rendering. Olson estimates the community could cost $20 million and break ground in 2016.

"If someone wanted to give me $20 million, I would find a space and start building now," Olson said.

Olson doesn't plan to use federal or state funding to build or operate the campus, instead relying on donations, grants and endowments.

While waiting for donations, he wants to focus on creating an entrepreneur and business center to start putting adults to work, which could help the larger community.

"This could be a financial engine," he said.

According to a report conducted in 2010 by Easter Seals, a Nevada organization that helps people with autism and other disabilities, only 11 percent of adults with disabilities work full time and 32 percent have any kind of employment.

Olson estimates that nearly 90 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed.

Richard and Robbyn Kashanski have witnessed their son, Nick, experience difficulties finding employment.

"He has applied over and over again at McDonald's and Krispy Kreme," Richard said. "McDonald's used to be a place where people his age could get a job. Now you have the ex-corporate executive applying."

In addition to increased competition, Kashanski said he feels businesses won't hire his son because of his disability.

He added that rejection has taken its toll on Nick.

"There is only so many times he can be rejected," Kashanski said.

The Autism Entrepreneur Center would be like other business incubators in which people would come up with a business plan. The center would take steps to see the plan from conception to completion.

"They would have to do the work," Olson said. "We would bring in experts to contribute their time."

During an information session, Nick talked about a potential idea of starting a cleaning service business.

In addition to a place in community where his son could have full-time employment - if not his own business - and a secure environment, the haven would replace families' need for social services in Nevada, Kashanski said.

"Social services in Nevada is horrid," he said. "All the people are well-intended. There just isn't any funding."

Olson plans to hold more information sessions about the community and the Autism Entrepreneur Center. Sessions will be open to adults with autism spectrum disorder 18 or older, their parents, family members and caregivers.

His first meeting Jan. 10 already outgrew the space Olson booked at the Autism Center of Southern Nevada, 72 N. Pecos Road, with 30 people in attendance.

"It's a good problem to have," Olson said.

For more information, visit ltoventures.org.

Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 702-387-5201.