A new online company has emerged after a father decided to quit a successful corporate position because he wished to stay home with his autistic son.
My Artwork Plate, a website created
by Gerard Cassidy, has already proven to be a big draw for area parents and grandparents
seeking unique gifts for the younger set.
Cassidy personalizes things such as 8- or 10-inch plates to 9-inch door hangers to to mugs, bowls, clocks and even 16”x 16” puzzles, making them special for the child who will get them.
The products are brightly colored and uniquely customized and even a child’s artwork can be printed on plates.
Through friends, acquaintances and his two son’s teachers at Kyrene de la Colina Elementary, enthusiasm for the products is growing exponentially.
Cassidy is also offering a fundraising program for schools, civic groups, churches and other nonprofit entities that he hopes to expand nationwide.
The online company, MyArtworkPlate.com, attracts customers on its own merit, and yet locally, those who know of Gerard and Sarah Cassidy’s backstory are even more impressed with the launching of the business.
Cassidy, born and raised in Ireland, and his wife Sarah, an Australian native, met 14 years ago when she was living in London and working for Time Warner and he was head of facilities in Europe for a company later purchased by Concentrix, a global entity.
Sarah is now vice president, brand marketing and communications for Concentrix and Gerard – who headed North American real estate – resigned after their eldest son, Jacob, was diagnosed with autism.
“We were relocated to Arizona when I was promoted to the head of North America Real Estate team,” Gerard explained. “Jacob was only 6 months old at the time. When Jacob was 2-1/2 and had not shown any signs of talking, we took him to the Melmed Centre in Scottsdale who diagnosed him as autistic.
“Although Sarah and I had already had our suspicions, hearing the diagnosis officially was heartbreaking. It was the unknown of where Jacob would sit on the spectrum that was the hardest, so we prepared ourselves for the worst but never lost hope for the best.”
“We enrolled him in every form of therapy you could think of. Something had to give and we both agreed that to give Jacob the very best chance, I would leave the corporate world. It’s been well worth it. Every single day he surprises us with just how far he has come, and I really enjoyed my time with him.”
He started My Artwork Plate, which, he said, “I can grow and at the same time gives me flexibility to continue on Jacob’s autism journey.
“Seeing Jacob’s artwork progress over the past two years encouraged me to come up with this idea.”
Parents also of Oliver, 3, they immersed themselves in learning everything they could about autism spectrum disorder and how best to help their oldest son.
Some things couldn’t be learned in books or specific websites. Negative reactions from the public was one harsh discovery.
“I don’t think we ever really understood the world of autism,” Gerard said. “On a bad day when Jacob has a meltdown, and it’s usually when we’re out and there’s too much going on or if he is overwhelmed, we hear the whispers and see the looks of judgement: ‘They need to discipline that child.’
“And we’ve all been guilty of that in the past but when you live with autism and you understand the sensory challenges – how Jacob sees, hears and experiences things differently – you realize that it’s so much more than that.”
But the positives are there for the family who have come so far to make Ahwatukee their home.
“We have been blown away by the people that have come into Jacob’s life over the past four years,” Gerard said.
“Teachers who are now like family, therapists who have become friends, and Jacob’s applied behavior analysis therapist, who was with him right through COVID-19 teaching him social skills, how to interact with his peers, working on reading, emotions and all the things that come completely natural with typical developing kids. All have truly transformed this little boy’s life.
“He’s now in mainstream school, something we never dreamed would be possible.”
Both Jacob and Ollie are enrolled at Kyrene de la Colina. Jacob is in first grade and Ollie attends preschool.
“Both have the most amazing principal, teachers and resource team at Kyrene de la Colina, more than we could ever have hoped for. It’s thanks to them that I
was able to start my business,” proclaimed Cassidy.
Laurie Arellano, a kindergarten teacher at Colina and a 21-year Kyrene veteran and Ahwatukee resident, was so impressed with the My Artwork Plates after seeing the products on Sarah Cassidy’s Facebook page that she ordered personalized plates for each of her grandchildren.
“I immediately went to Gerard’s website and ordered seven plates for my grandkids,” said Arellano, who was Jacob’s kindergarten teacher last year.
“It was so much fun making their faces on the plates; you can also design it to match their personality, which I really loved. Before I placed the order, I realized hair bows were not an (online) option for my granddaughters, and all three of them love to wear bows.
“So, I sent Gerard a Facebook message and asked if he had any bows that I could add to the design. He immediately added a bunch of bows and headbands. So, when my grandkids come over to my house, they each have a special plate to use.”
Arellano, who welcomed her eighth grandchild last month, said the plates are dishwasher-safe and quite durable.
“This is really a great company that can make quality, personalized gifts for kids and grandparents, too and perfect with Christmas is just around the corner,” she said. “And I love supporting a local Ahwatukee business.”
Scott and Kathryn Berry, parents of 6-year-old Kaitlyn and 3-year-old Evan, met the Cassidys at swim lessons and their children regularly enjoy play dates. They, too, have become My Artwork Plate customers.
Kathryn said that the family recently purchased their first travel trailer, and My Artwork Plate designed and personalized plates and cups to use while camping.
“Now, I can’t wait for my son to turn 4 so we can design party favors for all of the kids specific to Evan’s birthday,” she added.
Chandler resident Mary Navarro said the two families have been close since Jacob was young, and the bond strengthened when she and Sarah Cassidy had their second sons a week apart.
“The Cassidy family has always put their kids’ best interest at the forefront, so it was no surprise to us when Gerard decided to stay home to support Jacob when he was diagnosed with Autism. Jacob has grown leaps and bounds since then especially in his language development and it has been amazing to watch,” she said.
“We’ve been along for the ride of My Artwork Plate since its conception. We’ve watched Gerard work tirelessly on building a brand that fits their family and it’s values,” said Navarro, a Montessori teacher.
“If you leave knowing one thing about the Cassidy family it’s that they’re the most fun, giving and caring people you’ll ever meet. This is clearly evident in the playful designs and reasonable price points of their products. “
Gerard said as parents of small boys, it was important to the couple to provide reasonable product pricing. To accomplish that, he said three quarters of his products are $20 or below.
Fundraising has long been a passion for Gerard Cassidy, starting when he was back in Ireland and helping families and nonprofits as a volunteer.
After a school or group registers online, they are assigned a code. Then parents or members order products directly on the website, using the code and 20 percent of product purchase goes in the group’s coffers with a check sent monthly for every $100 or more raised.
The program is fully outlined on MyArtworkPlate.com
As Cassidy works to expand his nascent business, he is active within his community, including serving on his sons’ schools PTO.
“We are so grateful for what we
have, and as part of our business we wanted to give back to local communities and support them in raising funds,” Gerard said.