Chinese mom's South Bay business transforms lives of special needs students

A Chinese-owned embroidery business is making a huge difference in the South Bay. One mom’s quest to help her own son with special needs is now helping so many others in the community.

Sherry Meng says she came to the United States back in 1988 with her husband, went to school and started a family. When she discovered her son was autistic, she began helping other special needs students and that led to her running her own business.  

"When my son was three years old, Friends of Children with Special Needs helped me," said Meng. 

Sherry Meng says after connecting with Friends of Children with Special Needs, she wanted to give back to the organization that supported her autistic son. She volunteered with the adult day program for over a decade and eventually taught students life and vocational skills.

"We taught a lot of things like how to cook, making a sandwich, laundry, and later I focused on vocational training."  

In 2020, with no prior knowledge of the industry, Meng says she started Turtleworks, an embroidery company. She wanted a business with a skill that students could enjoy and easily learn. After she and her husband invested about $200,000 in the company, she began a partnership with three local school districts, including Campbell Union High School District, to provide job training.

Meng says the school districts use their own funding to pay students, and they work with equipment that simplifies the embroidery process. Longtime customer David Rodger says he too has an autistic son, but it’s the quality work that led him to Turtleworks.   

"It’s not like getting a crayon drawing to put on the refrigerator. This is high quality stuff that my people now require or count on me to go to Ms. Sherry to get additional products made," said David Rodger, with EXFO. 

Meng’s impact on the community hasn’t gone unnoticed. Turtleworks has received numerous community awards and has been featured in local newspapers, including a Bay Area Chinese-language publication.

"It says ‘Chinese mom creates business and teaches autistic kids a skill,’" said Meng, as she translated the headline into English. 

Meng says she named her business Turtleworks after the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. She says she wants special-needs students to come out of their shell and learn skills like everyone else, even if it takes them a little longer to reach their goals. Meng's motto: Slow and steady wins the race.