Pop-up Airbnb hotel opens doors for entrepreneurial youth with autism in Huntsville

Huntsville Forester
July 27, 2016
Alison Brownlee

HUNTSVILLE – A new social enterprise is searching for youth with special needs who want to burst onto the international marketplace.

Anne Larcade, a Huntsville resident and entrepreneur with a background in hospitality management and development strategy, said her son Alex inspired her to think of a creative way to give him and other young adults with autism a chance to develop social and workplace skills while breaking them out of isolation.

And that is when she thought of creating a pop-up Airbnb hotel on her property.

Volunteers secure and furnish the Lotus Bella tent that will become an Airbnb business for youth with autism in Huntsville. It will be paired with a life-skills school the youth will be able to attend.

Volunteers secure and furnish the Lotus Bella tent that will become an Airbnb business for youth with autism in Huntsville. It will be paired with a life-skills school the youth will be able to attend.

“We need to provide jobs for special people. As they enter adulthood, there is a significant factor of isolation, depression and anxiety, which I see in my own son,” said Larcade. “To heal himself, he wants friends and he wants to have a job. And I have seen enough in the sector … to realize there is an opportunity to help others.”

“People will come from all over the world to stay in a cool place,” said Larcade.

The project has two parts. The first is a school where students participate in scheduled daily activities for socialization and skills development. And the second is an airy, five-metre-tall Lotus Belle glamping tent, which the students will manage as their business through Airbnb, an online international marketplace that lets people list or rent vacation homes for a fee, from which the students will financially benefit.

Larcade said she has been encouraged by the support the project has already received from the community.

“Last week, I put news out on Facebook of the plan and I have had a tremendous amount of positive encouragement and volunteers have come forward,” she said. “I’ve had everything from a high school student, who would like to do her volunteer hours by doing art therapy, to a mature woman, who is on the spectrum, who would like to be involved with teaching.”

Several others have come forward with in-kind donations as well, she said.

She said she saw a need for the initiative and others like it because there are little to no options for young adults with autism once they leave high school.

“There is nowhere for these kids. They are lost boys and girls and their parents are (not going to be around forever),” she said. “A lot of these kids want to be independent, have friends and have a job. I am just trying to create a social model with my skill set.”

The pop-up hotel has yet to hit the site, as it still needs to be furnished. Other needs for the school are also outstanding, including fencing for therapy animals and an auxiliary bathroom. Volunteers and students are also needed.

“People will come from all over the world to stay in a cool place,” said Larcade. “But I am extremely excited about the transformative effect they will have by special people serving them breakfast and interacting with them. It will work. I know it will work.”

Those interested in applying to the low-cost school or volunteering can contact Larcade at alarcade@sequelhotels.com. And those interested in supporting the project can do so by visiting specialneedsdreamworks.com.

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