Not Just Awareness: What Charleston’s Jeff Fitzharris is doing for Autism

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Everyone in their lives has been struck with a brilliant idea: an app that would make them millions (if they ever got around to patenting it), some food combination they’d be slinging in trendy restaurant for years (if they ever got around to making it), or by golly, the next great American Novel (if they ever got around to writing it.)

Ideas are plentiful; what is not is the courage, ambition, and drive to act on them. Jeff Fitzharris, Charleston local, has displayed those less common traits in his t-shirt company, There’s No Place Like Charleston, and his silk screening company, In Gratitude Always. The two work well together, as one would imagine, but how and why they came together are the beautiful thing.

The idea for There’s No Place Like Charleston came three years ago while Jeff was painting a mural for Prohibition, a trendy bar on King. The owner asked him to, “write something nice about the city,” in the mural. Jeff was immediately struck with an idea, but, in his words “There was something that stopped me and said, hey that’s for you, that’s not for the mural.” So, like any good businessman, he went to social media platforms, different businesses and began advertising for t-shirts.

The idea for silk screening came a little later, though an interesting avenue. Jeff has a niece and goddaughter named Victoria with autism living in Pittsburgh, and he was just talking to his brother about different jobs she could do to gain some independence. Silk screening would be great for those with autism due to the repetitive nature of the work, something that drives those who are not autistic up the wall. Most people need variety, but for those with autism, it is a great comfort and necessity to count on doing the same routine day in and day out.

Realizing that this idea could be applicable beyond his own family–there are people with autism everywhere–he decided pursue silk screening in Charleston. After getting the ball rolling with getting his brand set up and ready to roll out at the much loved King Dusko in 2014, Jeff reached out to Charleston Autism Academy with the intention of giving them 10% of the profits from the brand. He spoke with Laura Misenhelter of Charleston Autism Academy, who realized how brilliant his idea was because her 17 year old son, Aaron, has autism–and needed a job.

As it turns out, Laura also had a space Jeff could use for his silk screening shop–now it was just time to get the equipment. Miraculously, five thousand dollars-worth of equipment was donated by a man that neither spoke to directly; he was an owner of a national screen printing equipment company. To top it all off, Laura also became his business partner.

That is how Jeff sees his business: a series of fortunate events, miracles and something that is affirming what he calls his “conscious vocational project.” It is quite a project and wonderful business model helping his cause in several ways that all feed into each other: hire those with autism, donate profits from merchandise to Charleston Autism Academy and all while raising awareness.

However, awareness is a tricky business, as it comes in stages. There are people who become aware of circumstances, and consider themselves informed, and that’s that. They never move on to the next stage; action. Though Jeff was already acting, he had a moving experience that really made him truly aware.

Like many schools, Charleston Autism Academy has a Christmas pageant, and Laura invited Jeff to come along last year. “I got there, and there are these beautiful children. They were beautiful, and I looked onstage, and to me, things were not normal at all. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone, but I looked around the room, and everybody else in the room were of course loved ones and parents. So here are all these beautiful smiles of people who are proud of these children, and I guess I was the only one in the room going ‘Wow. This is too much.’ And I had to get up and leave and I told Laura, and she’s like ‘Are you alright?’ and I said ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ And then she said ‘Now you’re aware.’’

This experience cultivated the kind of awareness that has to lead to a much deeper commitment to Jeff’s own actions–and to keep his business going. As of right now, his brand is carried in three different stores in Charleston: Sheila’s Shamrock on Market Street, King Street Cookies on King Street, and Boone Hall Plantation’s gift shop in Mount Pleasant.

Though Jeff would like nothing more than all of his profits to come from There’s No Place Like Charleston t-shirts, he knows opening up his screen printing shop means more money for his cause, which means that In Gratitude Always is open for outside businesses, bands, restaurants, or any group that wants to get t-shirts silk screened. If you are interested in having t-shirts made, simply contact Jeff at jeff@theresnoplacelikecharleston.com with the details–but because he’s a laid back kind of guy, he says good ol’ texting is a fine way to make first contact: (843)-301-1187.

In using the brand name, Jeff often points out other local businesses to highlight how unique Charleston is–and it’s true. One of the reasons There’s No Place Like Charleston has been successful is because there isn’t another place like it. The Dorothy image is fitting: it’s a magical place, where people are kind, supportive of the city, and of course, where everyone is home. Jeff Fitzharris and his business are a prime example There’s No Place Like Charleston. It’s a city positive brand, with amazing altruistic goals, and really attractive merchandise: what’s not to love?

There’s No Place Like Charleston Official Website