Providing Life-Skills and Job Training Through Turtleworks : An Interview with Sherry Meng

This article is authored by Sara Kuang, an FCSN High School Volunteer and FCSN Voice Youth Reporter

The turtles smile up warmly at the viewer. One has adorable magenta-rimmed glasses while another has a cute little graduation cap on, its shell a kaleidoscope of green. These are just two of the various logos for Turtleworks, an embroidery company employing special needs individuals founded by dedicated FCSN parent Sherry Meng.  When I met her, she radiated kindness and was eager to share her experience volunteering with FCSN and creating Turtleworks. Even though I interviewed her through Zoom, her passion and joy for the special needs’ community was very apparent from the moment we sat down together. 

Sherry with her embroidery machine at work in the Turtleworks shop.

As the mother of a special-needs child, Sherry has always been aware of the deficits in the special needs job market and job training. Ever since she started working in FCSN, Sherry was driven to help children with disabilities achieve greater independence through fulfilling jobs. She details her involvement with the enrichment programs that FCSN offers, stating “In 2009 I started working in FCSN as a volunteer. Since then, I’ve created the Life Skills and Job Training classes and I later became the director of the South Bay Enrichment Programs…I really saw how the kids need life-skills and job training so I created two projects, one for handmade soap and lotion (now sold in Friends Coffee and Tea) and one for building napkin holders and candy dispensers from recycled Legos.” With the success of her enrichment job training programs, Sherry saw that there was a severe lack of job opportunities for these young, eager individuals. “I’ve worked in FCSN for almost 10 years and I see young adults [with special needs] have no place to go after high school graduation. It’s hard to find the optimal job/work program that focuses on their strengths and talents, so they usually stay at home with no goal and purpose. This creates a lot of stress for the individual, their family, and the community as it is easy to develop mental issues like this. They need to be able to leave the house and have a job to have a healthy life,” she said. Moreover, she realized that for the young adults who did manage to land jobs at established companies, oftentimes the lack of support, training and individual attention required made keeping the job very difficult. Always looking to better the community around her, Sherry founded Turtleworks in January of 2020 in the hopes that it would finally be a business that fully integrates every individual with special needs.

It wasn’t easy to start Turtleworks, especially amidst the pandemic. However, as with anything she does, Sherry approached this monumental task with vigor, perseverance, and optimism. She recounts with a laugh how she struggled to learn the niche skill of embroidery on her own. “I only got five hours of training with the embroidery machine before the technician left (due to COVID -19 restrictions.) I was so scared and even after three weeks I still didn’t know how to turn on or operate the machine. I didn’t know anybody who was learning embroidery, so I basically had to find teachers and classes online to learn this new skill by myself.” The social distancing has been both a blessing and a curse for Sherry, as she now has abundant time on her hands to focus on business management classes, embroidery webinars, and advertising for her training classes and products. However, due to the worries surrounding opening businesses, she hasn’t been able to hire an assistant —something she plans to do soon— and hasn’t been able to open full-time training classes for adults with special needs. Here, Sherry pauses to think about her responses. I can see how she has so many bold aspirations and ideas for her company and even now is eagerly looking forward to what the future holds for this business. As our interview moves on, her excitement is palpable, and she even stops to proudly show me the embroidery products and samples she has already made. The scarves and shirts are beautiful, meticulous, and professional yet at the same time exude a loving and endearing touch with the small embellishments. The quality of the product is clearly apparent, and I was certain that with Sherry’s ambitious spirit, Turtleworks would undoubtedly thrive. 

Various embroidered scarves that Turtleworks has made for FCSN clients.

Turtleworks has already provided gifts and products for various functions to support the community during this time. Most notably, she has made free birthday shirts for FCSN clients and shipped them across the Bay Area to provide a sense of caring, love and hope. Sherry has also started partnering with two initiatives, the Stanford Neurodiversity Project and SN Inclusion to further provide job training and soft skills training for individuals with special needs. Despite having accomplished so much in less than a year during a pandemic, Sherry has even more exciting plans for Turtleworks in the future. She hopes that it will eventually be able to provide personalized gifts and logos for FCSN as well as local companies. She believes in the love and feeling of togetherness that her products embody and hopes that her work will be able to draw the community closer together. “I want Turtleworks to have the same or higher quality product as other embroidery businesses as well as provide a training and volunteering opportunity for kids and young adults of all levels of disability…I want [the kids] to get training and improve the quality of their lives through providing jobs.” Sherry’s aspirations even reach beyond the location she currently has; she hopes to expand Turtleworks to different locations throughout the Bay Area if her job training model proves to be successful here. Her heart extends to the special needs community beyond the South Bay; with her unflagging spirit and tireless drive to further her company’s impact, I firmly believe that Sherry and Turtleworks will achieve great success in the future.

A scarf made by Turtleworks for the Special Melodies South Bay FCSN Program.
Turtleworks provides high-quality embroidery products for your family and friends and makes it easy to give thoughtful, personalized gifts for birthdays, baptisms, weddings and more. The company also provides important job and skills training as well as employment opportunities for individuals with special needs of all levels. Create an everlasting bond with your team members, coworkers or extended family with an embroidered hat, scarf, or shirt. Cherish your unforgettable moments with them through a Turtleworks product while also supporting a great cause. 

Turtleworks’ facility is very spacious and accommodating for all individuals with special needs. During this time, Turtleworks adheres strictly to the social-distancing mandates and works to provide a safe, clean place for both employees and customers. Most importantly, Turtleworks provides personalized job training programs to discover and utilize the unique strengths and talents of each and every individual. Parents of special needs individuals can be comfortable knowing that at Turtleworks is a family that will endlessly love, support and care for their child. 

Turtleworks teaches vital soft skills such as time management, collaboration, and online shopping as well as marketable skills in graphic and art design, advertising, and machine maintenance among countless others. Those who attend the training programs can expect to learn simple, applicable jobs as well, such as trimming fabric, cleaning, packaging and delivering products. Other companies may only provide rudimentary job training but Turtleworks helps provide personalized training that not only will help all special needs individuals, regardless of ability level or experience, thrive as a Turtleworks employee but also translate to life skills that will help them in other job areas or companies.

All interested parents and readers are encouraged to refer more businesses, potential customers or local organizations to Turtleworks as the more orders, interest and partnerships we have, the more training opportunities and equipment we can provide to support our children. With your support, Turtleworks will be able lift up the special needs community more and more. For questions, comments, concerns or references, please call Turtleworks at (408) 888-7785 or email us at turtleworks2020@gmail.com. Visit our website for more information at turtleworks.co or come see the shop at 1622 W Campbell, Suite 107, Campbell, CA 95008.

Helping young adults with autism break out of their shells, one stitch at a time.

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