Jewish Child Care Association’s Compass Project helps young adults with special needs identify career and educational directions and foster friendships through socialization programs. It also encourages participants to pursue their dreams. Compass staff helps clients develop job readiness skills, assists with job development and provides skillful coaching to prepare them for competitive employment and ensure their success in the workplace. “We are very pleased to see the progress of our clients,” says Elise Hahn Felix, Director of the Compass Project. “And one of the special benefits is to see that many of our employers gain insight and learn from the experience as well.” Jewish Child Care Association is a major nonprofit organization helping vulnerable children and families of all backgrounds. Here are some of their stories:
Freddy and Bryan work at Somerset Gardens in Plainview, which is an assisted living facility, and a subsidiary of Chelsea Gardens.
Last year Freddy and Bryan received vocational support at Compass. They did not have prior job experience but they wanted to work. According to Shari Abel Saunders, Compass Job Development Coordinator, “We assessed their skills, interests and abilities and thought they would be well-suited to work at Somerset Gardens.”
Their jobs were to assist the residents with such daily activities as Bingo, exercise classes, sing-alongs and dance. Paul Wasser, the Executive Director of Somerset, provides a nurturing, supportive workplace environment that enables the clients to build on their skills and gain confidence. He says, “My goal is to benefit the residents and staff. I see how the interns interact with our residents, how they cheer them up and make their day a little brighter. And I see how they have added a spark and a positive dynamic to the recreation team. And aside from the business and health care decisions I am required to make on a daily basis, working with JCCA and the Compass Project has been one of the best decisions I have made for the company.” “This is key,” states Elise Hahn Felix. “Leadership and support from the top set the tone for the other staff.”
Bryan did so well that after two months, Debbie Sweithelm, Recreation Director, offered him a part-time paid job. Bryan remarks, “It’s so great. I get to come to work each day at a place where I already made friends and I feel part of the team. I am glad when I can put a smile on someone’s face.” Debbie continues, “These young men started off first as volunteer interns with stipends and have now become employees, making a contribution to our community. Work should not only be simply a way of earning income, but working to make a difference, and at the end of the day, making your place in this world.”
Recently, a family member of a resident who had just moved into Somerset was so appreciative of how Freddy took the time to ensure her parent was well cared for, she praised Freddy’s kindness on what could have been a stressful day for the whole family.
Restoration Farm, a beautiful family-run organic farm which operates as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Old Bethpage, New York has had many interns from Compass over the last several years. Husband and wife, Dan and Caroline Holmes, also have created a warm and welcoming environment in which Compass participants have worked the land, built friendships and developed a sense of community. James, an environmental science college student, loved his time on the farm, especially the camaraderie he felt working side by side with other volunteers and staff. According to James, “I developed a sense of responsibility to complete the assigned tasks and, as a result, I gained a greater sense of confidence.” He added, “I really liked learning about healthy eating and I even introduced my family to new fruits and vegetables.” Michael K., another Compass participant, enjoyed learning about farming, nutrition and the tasks necessary to keep a farm running. “I decided to start a small garden of my own at home. I like to see the plants grow.” For three years, Michael F. has volunteered on the farm. His love and passion for working there and the friendships he formed gave him new skills and confidence. While he continues to volunteer there, he now has a paying job at ShopRite. According to Dan Holmes, “Beyond the work that they did, it is important for the Farm that everyone work together as a tight community, and they fit in very well with everyone. At the same time, I and the other workers were reminded that every one of us has different abilities and disabilities. It is a good lesson for all of us and helps us work better together.”
JCCA job coaches assess every individual while providing each with pre-vocational support, services and coaching on site until the intern is able to work independently. JCCA staff works closely with employers to maintain an open line of communication to ensure a successful working relationship. “Compass coaches assess the skills and interests of all participants to give them a valuable internship experience tailored to their career goals. When our interns succeed, we succeed. It is an amazing feeling to see them growth in confidence and ability,” emphasizes Compass Coach, Skyler Friedman Conway.
Trevor, 25, who has a developmental disability and other physical and medical issues, lives independently in White Plains. He wanted to work with mechanics and was placed at J and J Presto as a gas station attendant and mechanic’s assistant in White Plains, NY. But his new boss, Jim, had no experience working with people with disabilities and wasn’t sure if it would be a good fit for his business. Trevor explains, “This was the job I really wanted. I was so happy to be given the opportunity to ‘live my dream.’” Compass coaches supported Trevor on- and off-site. Today Jim says, “Now that we have been working together for almost a year, I have come to know, value and understand Trevor. Now he is just ‘one of the guys.’” Compass worked with Trevor, Jim and counselors to make the position paid and permanent. Since then, Trevor has had a raise, learned how to do oil changes and change tires. Overcoming multiple learning differences and some physical restrictions, Trevor continues, “I have gained a lot of confidence and learned how to be successful in the workplace.” This is due in large part to his positive attitude and the support of an employer who has learned that hiring people with learning differences is not as challenging as he originally thought. A few weeks ago, Trevor came in to a weekly coaching session with a huge smile on his face and said, “I’m so proud. I now have a uniform!” Trevor’s story is a testament to his own determination, the support of his employer and the skill and dedication of the Compass staff.
Group internships help participants who need a greater level of support. They offer the opportunity to observe participants’ work-readiness skills in a more supportive environment to help develop social and vocational skills.
The Food Bank for Westchester
The Food Bank for Westchester is the core of the county’s emergency food distribution network. It solicits, acquires, warehouses and distributes food to more than 265 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters as well as adult, childcare and treatment centers to some 200,000 Westchester children, seniors and their families who are hungry or at-risk of hunger.
“I am learning how to be organized and getting a lot of experience. It feels great that I am accomplishing so much and helping people in need,” says Ben Norry, a JCCA intern.
“JCCA interns are vital to the Food Bank’s ability to distribute more than seven million pounds of food to our member agencies. We are able to plan our week’s deliveries knowing that the time they devote to volunteering each Wednesday will produce hundreds of pounds of donated food items being sorted, evaluated and repacked. It’s a situation in which everyone wins. Our communities are nourished and our hardworking, dedicated interns learn important vocational skills and help make our community healthier, stronger and kinder. I am proud of the work we do together. The relationship that we have developed over the years is one of great affection and respect,” explains Nancy Lyons, Manager of Volunteer Services.
The Greenburgh Nature Center
The Greenburgh Nature Center is an educational leader in the region that advances environmental literacy and is a model of best sustainable practices. They provide a range of community activities engaging people with each other and the natural environment, instilling in future generations an appreciation for nature and a will to protect it.
“Our JCCA interns allow us to provide better husbandry and care to our collections, and better service and attention to our public visitors. It has only strengthened my willingness and desire to hire people with special needs, although my willingness was already high. This experience has brought more attention to all staff that we are a community destination and that it is beneficial to have more of our community represented,” affirms Travis Brady, Director of Education.
And the interns are learning too. “I’m learning about teamwork, how to feel more comfortable around animals and how to be more comfortable in a job setting. My internship has really taught me that you can handle any kind of job if you can handle something like this. I am thinking about a career with animals. I want to have good jobs on my résumé so I can build a career,” says Brandon Barenfeld, JCCA intern at Greenburgh Nature Center.
Elise Hahn Felix, LCSW, is Director of Transition Services, Shari Abel Saunders is Job Development Coordinator, and Valerie Rosen is Compass Coordinator at Jewish Child Care Association’s Compass Project. For more information, please visit http://jccany.org/compass.