A palpable yet comfortable silence fell over the room as the Three Basketeers focused intently on transferring decal stickers onto stainless steel pet bowls and treat jars, two products available in their new fur baby basket.
In October of 2019, over a plate of tacos and cheese dip, three mothers of three young men on the autism spectrum gathered to discuss their sons’ futures.
They were worried about what their sons would do after high school and talked about potential job opportunities for adults with special needs.
But, as Sue Swanson, CEO of Three Basketeers, said, “there aren’t many jobs for adults with special needs.”
“[All the moms] … were talking about what would happen when our boys aged out of high school,” Swanson said. “There aren’t many jobs for adults with special needs, so we thought … if we can’t beat them, we’ve got to join them. We’ve got to do something for ourselves.”
Swanson said she and the other mothers reached out to Sandra Tanner, a special education teacher at Alpharetta High School, that had worked with each of the Basketeers on vocational training. Tanner was interested in pursuing a project that could lead to each of the young men developing important life and vocational skills, something that she was passionate about teaching.
“I taught the students [at my school] how to work,” Tanner said. “It was about looking at the bigger picture. Can they attend to detail, can they follow a schedule, can they accept constructive feedback? Those things are huge.”
“Everyone has to have those skills in every job,” she said. “And they’re very hard sometimes.”
Three Basketeers officially opened its doors on Dec. 1, 2019, with three founding members: Brett Swanson, Luke Graves and Daniel Abadie. Since opening, Abadie has moved on to follow his personal passion, voice acting, and has started his own voice-over company, Vivid Vocals VO.
Three Basketeers also opened with two products available: the Grief Care Basket and the Home Sweet Home Basket. Each of Three Basketeer’s gift baskets are filled with unique items that fit different themes, such as birthdays and holidays.
Now, almost two years later, the company has 11 baskets with almost 20 different basket bits all handmade by the Basketeers.
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Meet the Basketeers
Swanson, 23, has been working to create handmade gift baskets and boxes since 2019.
He is always working hard to make sure that each basket leaves the office doors looking “picture perfect.”
“Brett is extremely methodical,” Tanner said. “He can look at a picture of one of the baskets and duplicate it perfectly.”
He also loves spelling and uses his passion to create custom tile picture frames with Scrabble tiles, turning them into unique words and phrases.
Graves, 21, has created many fun designs of multiple Three Basketeers products.
Some of his creations include a charming house drawing, a gator chef and festive clown, all used on products such as notecards, T-shirts and cutting boards.
“Luke is like our resident artist here,” Tanner said. “To see his drawings, and other Basketeers’ drawings, come to life is really neat. They’re probably just little doodles done on a Saturday afternoon, but we’re always like, ‘Let’s keep that and turn it into something real.’ Their drawings are really special.”
Kyle Galloway, 22, is the newest member of the Basketeer team.
“Kyle brings personality to all of our baskets,” Tanner said. “He makes our baskets and business alive.”
Tanner said that Galloway is a “perfect salesman.” Galloway said that he enjoys talking to customers and marketing their products.
“I like seeing different trends,” he said. “Like what people like or what they might want in baskets in the future.”
Galloway also enjoys taking inventory and stocking basket bits so the other Basketeers can put readily available products in their overall basket design.
Currently, Three Basketeers has extended its basket line to include custom baskets, which can include products from other baskets, such as journals, keychains, coasters and more.
“With [custom baskets] you can be more creative,” Galloway said. “Like figuring out how to fit everything in the basket or the box and being more creative with how to arrange the stuff to make it pretty for the people.”
He said that he and his fellow coworkers enjoy putting baskets and boxes together and seeing the final product. Tanner said each of the Basketeers signs their name on each basket or box they finish.
“[The Basketeers] just all take so much pride in their work,” Sue Swanson said. “That’s why we make sure each basket is signed by the Basketeers that made it.”
According to the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning, “presumed competence is a strengths-based approach that assumes people with autism have abilities to learn, think and understand.”
Presuming competence is not about pretending that challenges do not exist, but instead, it helps to rid people of predisposed notions about people with developmental disabilities.
“One of my big mantras, even before Three Basketeers, is ‘presume competence,’” Sue Swanson said. “There’s nothing that makes me cringe more than when someone is talking to my 23-year-old as if he was 5.”
“One of our policies here is that we talk to everyone just like normal,” she said. “We presume that [the Basketeers] understand because they do. They understand everything that’s going on around them.”
Tanner said that Three Basketeers is a company about “can.”
“You don’t know how much [the Basketeers] have given me and what they’ve brought to my life,” she said. “These boys that have that label, that stigma, people place on them, but we are all about ability here. They can’t? No, they can.”
Both Sue Swanson and Tanner shared the sentiment that “everybody has something to offer.”
“It doesn’t matter if all somebody can do is put stamps on cards,” Tanner said. “We will find a job for them because they’re capable of something that we need.”
Swanson said one of the main reasons why the three moms picked a gift basket company in 2019 was because of the “unlimited permutations” that baskets bring.
“We can always come up with new ideas for baskets or boxes that [the Basketeers] can do,” Sue Swanson said. “Plus, they can work on them for a few days. All [the Basketeers] are so precise, so it takes time for them to make things. But we’ve got the time for them to work; we always make time.”
She said that her personal experience with her son, Brett, has been “amazing.”
“It’s just incredible to see him taking pride in his work,” Sue Swanson said. “Work that he can do and he enjoys.”
She said that oftentimes she will try to help Brett with tasks at work, but he will “give me the hand to say, ‘I’ve got this.’”
“I love when he does that,” she said. “He’s telling me, ‘I’ve got this. I can do this on my own.’ That confidence is amazing. Seeing him work like that does my heart so much good.”
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While Three Basketeers is thriving, like most businesses, it is always looking to grow; grow in size and opportunity.
“I would love to have 50 or even more Basketeers,” Sue Swanson said. “I would love for us to be open five or six days a week and have enough work to do.”
Currently, Three Basketeers is looking into opening a storefront — a retail facility that would be able to employ more adults with special needs and showcase all the products.
“We’re taking a vote on which [retail space] we want,” Sue Swanson said. “We’ve got two spaces that we can [rent], but it’s a matter of which one is best for us now.”
She said that Three Basketeers is hoping to open its first storefront in early November, though that date is subject to change.
Despite its new ventures in the retail world and basket-making, Three Basketeers will always be committed to ensuring a safe and comfortable environment where adults with special needs can work.
“We want to tell people with special needs in the county that when they go out of high school, there’s a place for them to work,” Kyle Galloway said.
“Around here, we don’t have many jobs for people with special needs, so it’s very difficult,” he said. “If we let people know that there’s a place here for jobs, they might be happy.”
To learn more about Three Basketeers, visit www.threebasketeers.org.
To follow their journey, keep up with them on Facebook at ‘Three Basketeers’