In working for a non-profit, Kelly Anne Ohde ’06 says she often wears many diverse hats.

In the scope of her position as micro enterprise and marketing manager for Easter Seals, she works hands-on with individuals with autism and other disabilities — helping clients with job skills and vocational training and helping them to foster independence.

At other times, her bachelor’s degree in public relations and electronic publishing (and master’s degree in public relations and advertising) come in handy.

“I do marketing for Easter Seals, which means anything; it really ranges,” she said, listing her responsibility areas: website work, social media, news releases, event planning, community outreach awareness, brochure production, logo designing, and fundraising activities from galas to golf outings.

Additionally, the “micro enterprise” portion of her job involves managing a small business, HarrysButtons of the Chicago area, which supports employment for individuals with autism and other disabilities.

Ohde has been with Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago full-time for five years and part-time for 10 years. “The organization I work for has a pretty large footprint – helping 30,000 people with disabilities. Autism happens to be my concentration,” Ohde said.

HarrysButtons was donated to Easter Seals by a family who has a son with autism. The family started the business in the basement of their home in 2004. HarrysButtons now has two locations, Tinley Park and Chicago, with plans to expand to Rockford, Ill. It currently employs roughly 50 individuals with autism and other disabilities.

“We do everything from creating buttons (for small orders like birthday parties to large orders of 30,000 buttons). We also create our own products and take on the production of other people’s products, like wine charms, handmade and customized with Swarovski crystals. Last year’s Academy Awards celebrity presenters received swag bags in the celebrity gifting lounge which included wine charms from the HarrysButtons team. It was very cool.

“We do our own products and receive grants and funding to continue expanding and diversifying. It could be a one-time production or long-term.”

Ohde’s clients range the autism spectrum. Some communicate nonverbally, using sign language or pictures; others are higher functioning.

“We look at the individuals we work with and find their abilities and find positions in their strengths,” she said.

“We provide a wide range of services, for babies through adults. I work with students who attend our therapeutic schools; most have autism or something very similar. They range in age from 16 to 22, and our adult clients are 22 to their mid-30s.”

Ohde’s career path began at Saint Mary’s. (With several family members as alumni and students, it was the only school she applied to, she states matter-of-factly.) She began studying business and after enjoying her classes with Dean Beckman and Dr. Steve Schild, she decided to change to public relations. Only a few classes short of a double-major in electronic publishing, Ohde decided to complete both.

“It was a great decision,” she said. “I got my master’s degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul, and my time at Saint Mary’s gave me a solid foundation to be accepted into that program and excel.”

While she was a student, she also worked in the Development and Alumni Relations Office at Saint Mary’s. “That internship also helped me,” she said. “I had the opportunity to help plan some smaller events. I have really fun memories of my time there.”

Her education, her internships, and her passion for Easter Seals, she says, seemed to lead her to her current position. “Looking back, I started working at Easter Seals summers while I was in college,” Ohde said. “I took a part-time job as a one-on-one aide for a child with autism. I love the organization. I’ve been associated with it nearly my whole life, since I was 8. In college, I always did projects whenever I could, about autism and Easter Seals. I now have my dream job, which is kind of funny.

“The thing I love most is definitely seeing the progress that people make. We get to see people saying their first words at 7 years old. It’s a really powerful moment and it makes you want to work harder,” Ohde said. “You help so many people and it’s so wonderful, but the reality is they’re teaching me all the time. It’s honestly my dream job. I always want to be involved with autism. It’s a perfect balance of both things I love, communications
and helping people.”

This article, written by Deb Nahrgang, was previously published in the Spring 2014 Saint Mary’s Magazine.

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