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American River Messenger

Grant Supports Youth with Autism

Dec 20, 2023 05:07PM ● By AWCF News Release

Eleanor R, Meristem Student; Bailey H, Meristem Student; Ilana K, Meristem Student; Troy Barry, Culinary Instructor, Meristem; Nichole Baxter, External Affairs Manager, California American Water; Nancy Pryor, Grant Specialist, Meristem; and Shea Smith, Day Program Director, Meristem. Photo courtesy of AWCF

FAIR OAKS, CA (MPG) - Meristem, a Fair Oaks-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping young adults with autism and other neurodiversity, recently received a $25,000 grant from the American Water Charitable Foundation (AWCF) to support its vocational training and life skills program.

The grant is part of AWCF’s Workforce Readiness Grant Program, which aims to enhance the quality of life in the communities served by American Water, the largest regulated water and wastewater utility company in the U.S.

“California American Water is proud to join leaders like Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg in supporting Meristem’s important work for our community,” said Nichole Baxter, External Affairs Manager for California American Water. “We know that investing in workforce readiness for neurodiverse individuals is essential for the future of our community and we are committed to helping create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Meristem will use the grant to purchase equipment and expand its café internship program, providing job skills and barista training to young adults on the autism spectrum. The campus, located on 13-acres in Fair Oaks, hosts students between the ages of 18-28 and helps them develop social and practical skills for a future of greater self-sufficiency and personal growth. Meristem’s curriculum and facilities offer hands-on learning in five core areas: movement, land work, craftwork, independent living skills, and preparation for work.

“The American Water Charitable Foundation’s support will help us better prepare young adults on the spectrum for a future of greater independence and fulfillment. Assisting young autistic adults gain job skills through social enterprise is a critical component of the services we provide,” said Meristem’s Executive Director, Erin Schirm. “We are grateful to the American Water Charitable Foundation and California American Water for their support and dedication to inclusion, diversity, equity and the local community.”

For more information about Meristem, visit To learn about other ways California American Water is supporting the community, visit