Many years ago, Suzy Im, MA ’95 discovered her daughter had learning and medical challenges and found that she needed help for her to reach her greatest capabilities. Navigating life without knowing about all available resources created some difficulties.
Now, more than a decade later, Im, a senior Marketing Communication faculty member and Emerson College Advisory Board member, was inspired by her family’s experiences to co-create Sponsors of the Future (SoF) with her husband, Jake Lee, an industry veteran in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals with over 20 years of experience working with global pharmaceutical leaders such as Pfizer, Shire, and Takeda, among other multinational companies.
The new nonprofit officially launched in June with a mission: to prepare children and teenagers with unique challenges for more fulfilling, independent adulthoods. The team of all-volunteer members is looking to create programming for adolescents with neurodivergent disabilities. SoF implements programs that help with the development of important life and social skills in growing adolescents as they journey toward college and the beginning of their careers.
SoF is currently growing, with new programs are under development. An inclusive pen pal program connects neurodivergent kids across the country with individuals with similar challenges and neurotypical students. The pen pal program provides an interactive opportunity for neurodivergent students who are often excluded from socializing with peers and mentors.
“A lot of parents witnessed firsthand that kids with disabilities and social limitations are left out by peers,” said Shannon Lindahl ’21, a former student of Im’s who is in charge of SoF’s student engagement. “[The pen pal program] creates an inclusive environment.”
Im said SoF will look to create programs that aren’t existing or can supplement existing programs. For example, summer camps aren’t always safe for kids with limitations, and parents want support for their children to feel comfortable at camps. SoF would help neurodivergent individuals by providing extra support to the camp, and expand opportunities for neurodivergent campers.
As co-founder and managing partner, Im is leveraging connections she formed in the healthcare industry through BDMT Global, an award-winning, Boston-based business development and marketing company, to bridge gaps between companies and the communities they are looking to serve. SoF has started getting sponsorships from companies including OrangeTheory Fitness, Dermafirm, Dr. Jart, and Radio Entrepreneurs. SoF is also discussing US-based sponsorship opportunities with medical developers around the world, including Philophos, Nu Eyne, and iMediSync.
“My role is to educate and convince companies, especially in healthcare, to get closer to the patient and the community where their original intention was to help them,” said Im. “The end goal should be helping patients, caregivers, and people who need help. I am trying to provide an ecosystem that gives healthcare companies the opportunity to better understand the needs and concerns of the patients they serve. There are many other ways that these companies can have a direct impact and improve patient wellness outside of their primary business goals.”
Lindahl’s main role with SoF is developing a career path program. She’s reaching out to companies across the country that are already implementing inclusive hiring programs to both foster career mentors to help kids develop the right skills to get those jobs when they’re older, as well as to inspire other businesses to join the movement.
She stressed the importance of educating parents, educators, and students about careers that neurodivergent individuals can thrive in, and what skills they need to get the job. Statistically speaking, Zavikon, a career matching program that works with companies to recruit and train neurodivergent employees in the workforce, said that companies who hire neurodivergent employees often experience “28 percent higher revenues, increased profit margins by 30 percent, and doubled net incomes.”
“We’re also trying to showcase that companies should seek to create programs to help these patient segments,” said Lindahl ’21. “We can help them create career path avenues and [provide team members] who can help you get there.”
There are many opportunities to get involved with the Rhode Island-based nonprofit to support its goals of inclusivity, advocacy, and education.
“If you’re a student, you can do something. If you’re a doctor, you can do something. If you’re a parent, you can do something,” said Im. “We’re trying to provide opportunities for people, especially for those with disabilities, challenges, and difficulties.”
Im’s former student, Emily Curtis ’22, is a volunteer content writer for SoF. Curtis said she wanted to volunteer because she’s seen firsthand the lack of programming and resources for children with disabilities, especially in more rural New England communities.
“Writing for SoF has allowed me to advocate for more considerable changes and encourage others to join the movement, too,” said Curtis.
And now that Im’s children are older, she and her husband, who uses his scientific background to align SoF’s programs with the most current medical research and treatments, serve at the forefront of the SoF ecosystem.
“The reason we started this is because there’s a lack of programming for kids in middle schools and high schools who are going to graduate. At 18, we need to provide more practical, transitional opportunities for kids to get ready to be an adult,” said Im. “A lot of times, parents and kids don’t know what to expect after graduating from high school. We’re trying to make that easy.”
For more information about Sponsors of the Future please visit sponsorsofthefuture.org. SoF welcomes all those who would like to join the movement.