On the employment path at CLASS since 2014, Shawn started volunteering to gain work skills; then shifted to paid, part-time janitorial work at CLASS; then started prepping a local restaurant’s dining room as part of a workgroup; to today working independently at a restaurant.
Shawn has thrived in the Community Based Day Services program on the vocational track, working on different skills each month to reach his goal of independence.
Today he’s working at McDonald’s in North Reading, 20 hours a week, four hours a day, Tuesday through Saturday. He barely sits still to have his photo taken – he has a list of things to do and he’s focused on completing those tasks, without interruptions.
“I like working by myself,” says Shawn, wearing his signature red McDonald’s gear. “I clean the tables and chairs, mop the floor when someone spills, and fill the napkin and straw dispensers. Sometimes I load up the French fries, get them ready for cooking.”
On summer days he’ll walk to and from work; weekdays his CLASS case coordinator drops him off.
“Shawn leaves from program to go to work, so every day his peers will ask, ‘How’s work?’” says Emily Horn, his case coordinator, who drives him to work on her way home from CLASS. “They see him change into his work uniform that is always clean and neat. Shawn is always on time, so he lets his staff and everyone know he’s leaving. Of course, they’ve all heard the stories of how he’s saving money for the infamous chain he has on layaway.”
“I already bought an iPhone 7, Beats headphones,” says Shawn, whose musical tastes lean toward hip-hop, Lil Wayne and Eminem in particular. “Now I’m saving my money, $50 every Friday, to buy my gold chain.”
So what are the other benefits of working at McDonald’s?
At that question Shawn breaks into a big grin.
“Two McDouble burgers, a chocolate shake and two apple pies,” he says, “Every day.”
We received a glowing review of Community Partners with CLASS from Angie Mahoney (author of I Can Work!). The most moving part for us was when Angie said she left the Luau with "a sense of community established." With her permission, we've re-posted the blog that appears on her site here:
On Friday June 23rd, 2017, Karen Weihrauch and I, Angie Mahoney (author of I Can Work!), had the pleasure of attending the Fourth Annual Community Partners with CLASS, Inc. Hawaiian Luau on the stunning grounds of The Stevens Estate at Osgood Hill in North Andover, MA. This event was dedicated to celebrating the friends, families and community collaborators with CLASS, Inc. through awards, fundraising, live music and so much more!
As Karen and I pulled up to the event, we could feel that it was going to be a special evening. Immediately greeted with smiles and Hawaiian leis, both of us were eager to meet the many dedicated employees of CLASS, Inc. and enjoy this remarkable evening celebrating the community.
A few months prior to this event, I had the pleasure of connecting with Melanie Chandonnet, Clinical Director for CLASS, Inc. Melanie had expressed interest in the I Can Work! program I had developed and had begun implementing it with a group of adults in the community-based day support program. Through conversations over the next few months, Melanie shared how she saw the benefit of each module and wanted to develop access to a range of vocational materials found in I Can Work! Over the next few weeks, Melanie worked hard to create a "Fund-A-Need" proposal to help raise money to provide a range of vocational materials and proudly kicked it off at the Hawaiian celebration!
When Karen and I saw the "Fund-A-Need" board for the first time the night of the event, it took our breath away! The squares were based off of the five I Can Work! modules of Job Readiness, Clerical, Food Service, Retail and Grocery. Under each donation square was an item to purchase related to building vocational skills. We stood in awe and excitement as attendees excitedly purchased squares giddy over staplers, washing machines and bedroom sets, all while knowing it was so much more!
As the beautiful summer evening continued on, conversations of the good work so many are doing were had and dancing was enjoyed! Karen and I left the event with our hearts full and a sense of community established. We look forward to celebrating with CLASS., Inc. again next year and continuing the vocational growth for ALL individuals!
In 2016, a new journey began when my 17-year-old autistic son, John, started writing his first children’s book. This was something that we had discussed but, honestly, between you and me, we weren’t sure if “we” could pull it off. You hear lots of people say, “You should write a book,” but, believe me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
John has always had a vivid imagination and when he was a little boy he would play with his hands. Now, lots of autistic kids play with their hands as a tic or stim but John really played with his hands. They had names like Bob and Tony, and they came from Handom.
Fast forward several years later, when the “story” came up again. He was playing with his hands and really self-talking a lot and one day I just asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “Bob and Tony were fighting.” I asked him to tell me more about his story. He started telling me more and ended up having many characters and they all came from Handom. I thought it was a cool concept and I suggested we put a story together.
It’s hard enough to get a kid to do something, but to write a book – whew. John was excited but nervous. He had a great idea but we needed to bring it to life. I became the scribe as John rattled off his characters and started drawing his ideas. It was a wonderful feeling to know that my suggestion was bringing my son such joy. Some days it wasn’t easy but I call myself “the nudger” for a reason.
If we can make this happen, the sky is the limit. More next time – stay tuned for the next chapter.
By: Lauren Miller
President, Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, Methuen
Adventures in Handom
It takes Matt six minutes to prep the mobile cart with a power strip, a cord rail holder and labels. Then he sends it along to the next person for finishing the assembly.
Total assembly time: 30 minutes.
“I like my work and the people I work with,” Matt says.
Matt’s an important part of Newcastle Systems, a manufacturer of powered and mobile workstations for business. He gets the production going on the company’s lines of unique products, mobilized power carts.
“You benefit by using a mobile unit inside a warehouse, for example, to have the accessibility and convenience of equipment at your fingertips – a power source, a printer, a monitor, a filing cabinet – and reducing your footsteps during the day,” says Mike Olson, operations manager at Newcastle Systems for five years. “It’s easy to underestimate how much time is spent walking back and forth to fixed printers, computers, scales and other equipment. It can cost thousands of dollars over the course of a year.”
Newcastle Systems’ custom-designed workstations serve education, retail, manufacturing and warehouse applications.
“Each system is configured specifically for your use, and it starts with Matt,” says Olson, Matt’s supervisor.
Matt preps every system with wiring, cabling and detailing and passes it along the production line.
“He’s a real good worker,” Olson says. “I tell him once and he picks it up quickly. He’s helped us tremendously. We’re glad to have him as part of our lean manufacturing team.”
Matt works five and a half hours a day, twice a week, and helps the company build their 45 systems a day. He’s motivated and hasn’t missed a day in the year he’s worked there.
“I want to work with my hands and I have a good boss,” he says.
And he’s particularly proud of his paycheck.
When Jeff came to CLASS in 2013, he knew he wanted to find a place for himself in his community, both socially and with a job. So he worked hard.
Through on-the-job vocational training he learned retail skills as a volunteer, sorting donated clothing at Ruth’s Place, talking to customers and working with a supervisor and other volunteers. He set an example of success and independence for his peers to follow.
Jeff’s accomplishments and great resume quickly led to a part-time job at Sodexo on the campus of Merrimack College, working in the dining commons.
“I’m a hard worker,” Jeff said. “I cleaned tables and worked behind the counter at the sandwich shop. I worked with my supervisor and did what I was told to do. I was proud of my job.”
Then everything changed.
Jeff, then 26, left CLASS in June 2016 to live with his family in Connecticut immediately following the death of his mom from cancer. He took it very hard — many sudden changes made it hard.
“His whole life was disrupted,” said Carol Martin, his case coordinator at CLASS. “Jeff moved the day after the funeral. Everything was done so quickly.”
One of the first things Jeff and his family did was contact the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services for support, but they were unsuccessful. Disappointed in having no services, they felt their options were shrinking.
“It was an unsettling time for Jeff,” said Carol Martin, his case coordinator. “He was with people who care about him very much, but he missed what his life had been – the social life, work and the paycheck. He called me at least once to three times a week just to talk. He was adjusting, doing OK, but he said he missed people here.
“He told me he wanted to move back to Massachusetts and back to CLASS,” Carol said. “Life was full here – that’s what Jeff wanted for himself again.”
So the young man began advocating for himself in earnest, telling his family first that he wanted to move back, how he missed the area and what his life had been.
“I want to work and I want to be busy,” Jeff said.
Jeff was a fast worker. Within six months, in December 2016 he called Carol to announce he was moving to Lowell to live with family. Carol helped them get his MassHealth coverage reinstated, then contacted his DDS service coordinator to let her know Jeff would be arriving soon.
“We got him back,” Carol said. “Now he needs to rebuild his social life, since he's settled here and comfortable.
“And he’s out interviewing for a job, the next step in his career,” she said with a contented smile.
Susan smiles a greeting at guests entering the Porthole Restaurant in Lynn, a family-owned business proud of its award-winning clam chowder. She counts her guests, picks up the right number of menus and seats them as close to the windows as she can, so they can enjoy the view of the Boston skyline across the sound.
Susan loves working here and she beams as she says, “I love to be doing something important. I love people and I love to seat people.”
“Susan’s success demonstrates the value and purpose of our employment program at CLASS,” says Peter Wiese, Employment Services supervisor. “Our placement, coaching and ongoing support ensure long-term success and independence for every person we match to a job.”
In addition to her hostess work, Susan helps the waitstaff with setting tables when things get busy.
"I've been working here for six years and I notice a difference in our guests when Susan is working, seating them for lunch," said Rob Langford, her manager. "They're glad to see her. She greets them with a smile and takes care of them. We're happy she's an employee here and she's done a great job for two years."
“It’s a joy to work with Susan,” echoes Career Specialist Keone Coleman, her job coach at CLASS. “She tends to be a fast learner and is such a happy-go-lucky individual, always full of life. She really loves her job at the Porthole and the people here really enjoy her energy.”
“Susan currently works two jobs and does good work at both,” Keone adds. “She is so independent she makes my job easy.
“Susan really exemplifies what it means to be a good employee.”
“I’m the hostess with the mostest,” she says, smiling.
As a writer, John Miller describes what he knows. In Adventures in Handom, his first book, he describes and illustrates what has been in his head since he was a preschooler. Kindness is his message; coming together as a community, his theme.
Big topics for a teenager. But three book signings and sales of nearly 350 books later, his message is reaching its audience.
Handom is a colony on a planet far, far away, “peopled” with inhabitants who thrive on “Goodness Juice.” John, himself, is described by his mom, Lauren, as having a “kind heart, good soul,” so it comes as no surprise that his books are imbued with good intention.
“Adventures in Handom is not about autism, but gives a peek inside the world of autism through the eyes of a child on the autism spectrum,” Lauren says.
What makes this young man’s accomplishment even more remarkable is his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder at age 5. While John has struggled with his learning style and social challenges that accompany autism, one thing has remained true and steady: his imagination.
“She’s an established author who fell in love with the drawings and the story and ultimately John and his story. She also started a gofundme campaign for John to help defray publishing costs for the book,” she says."
With such a strong circle of support from mom, dad and, now, Sherry, it’s safe to say, he’s on his way.
“John has never let anything stand in his way and has accomplished more in his lifetime than most adults, including gold-medaling in Special Olympics and earning a first-degree black belt in Taekwondo,” Lauren says. “He has thrived on his book tours, reading to libraries and interested school groups.
“He brought a Greater Lawrence Tech football player to tears at a book signing,” she says, fogging up. “All he could say was, ‘I’m so proud of you.’”
And a hint for you readers, while you’re deep in Handom: Pay close attention to the eyes.
On April 28, John Miller will speak about and read "Adventures in Handom," sign copies and have them available for sale at Chang's Taekwondo America, 230 Pleasant St., Methuen, at 5:15 p.m. John will tell his audience how Taekwondo helped him build his self confidence and inner strength, which helped him become the author and humanitarian he is.
Methuen Recreational and Resource Fair, CGS School, Methuen; Sunday April 30, 3 to 6 p.m.
Fuddruckers fundraiser, Methuen, Saturday, May 6, 5 to 8 p.m.
See www.handomadventures.com to order online.
About Ella’s Way:
At Ella's Way, we believe that early learning leads to acceptance (E.L.L.A.). Our mission is to promote kindness through acceptance of differences. With educating young children about the concepts of diversity and disability, they will be more accepting of differences as they begin to form their first friendships. CEO & Founder Sherry Zentner Cerino received a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Syracuse University School of Nursing, as well as advanced certification in leadership, process improvement and nonprofit management. Cerino has worked with many culturally diverse children and adults with medical needs and disabilities, developing her strong passion for respect and tolerance of differences.
The Ella's Way program is comprised of picture books, educational materials and other products that introduce the young child to the concepts of diversity, disability and acceptance of differences in a simple and age appropriate way. www.ellasway.com
The tall young man waits patiently in the lobby for his ride to work, dressed in the Walmart uniform of a fluorescent orange vest, Walmart billed cap and khakis. A Patriots jersey peeks through his V-neck vest and he quickly tells us he’s also a Bruins fan.
Jason Stevens, 35, has worked at Walmart for 16 years and he’s very proud to tell you about it.
“I like the people and the customers,” he says.
Three days a week, three to four hours a day, Jason clears the Walmart parking lot, taking care of cart retrieval and picking up the grounds.
“It’s hard,” he says. “I try to do it all but I have some help.”
On wet days his motorcycle rain suit doubles as protection while he’s working the lot — weekends he wears it on rides with his dad.
He knows absolutely everybody at Walmart, says Emily Horn, his CLASS case coordinator. He doesn’t have a job coach, which every other individual matched to employment by CLASS has, so Emily only steps in when needed, such as when Walmart has a change in management — to train the new staff, not Jason.
“He’s had a job at Walmart since 2000 and he’s always been on the job alone, no job coaching required,” she says. “He’ll always need help with certain things like working independently in a responsible manner, expressing and asserting himself. He’s a little shy sometimes, especially with strangers.”
CLASS career specialists match individuals to productive jobs in the community – jobs that interest and challenge individuals and with employers who value their contribution and strong work ethic.
Jason’s learning disorder and ADHD diagnosis does not stand in the way of his work — as his results show during Walmart’s annual safety and customer service training.
“Jason has done very well, earning a raise every year he’s worked at Walmart,” Emily says. “He’s a hard worker, thanks to his mom’s influence, and he loves earning his own paycheck.”
Prompt mail delivery is something you can count on at Merrimack Valley Federal Credit Union. Your bonus is Rosanna’s brilliant smile when she hands your envelopes to you.
Rosanna has been working at the credit union headquarters in Lawrence for two years and, since day one, she picks up her pace to meet the daily demands of her job.
“Rosanna’s job includes mailings, reports and sorting the mail for all 12 departments,” says Operations Supervisor Liz Pearl, Rosanna’s supervisor. “It takes a half hour a day just to deliver the mail here.”
Rosanna began to plan her career while still in high school. After graduating in 2006 she came to CLASS’s day program and refined her job skills, her resume and computer applications knowledge. She trained in CLASS’s mailroom, performing the job independently. When she interviewed at the credit union she made a great impression.
“She has an easy laugh and she’s easy going,” Pearl says. “She does a great job of working with and interacting with people.”
Born with cerebral palsy with spastic diplegia affecting her hips and knees, Rosanna works from her wheelchair, piloting effortlessly among departments and floors. She receives, sorts and delivers the credit union’s mail, which she takes care of three times a week.
Computer skills activities have interested many attending CLASS’s day program. The staff leads learners on the Internet in a hands-on lab, to explore job opportunities online and research companies. Rosanna fine-tuned her technology skills in the process, soon graduating to office applications and zeroing in on her dream job.
“She’s an idea person and very sharp on the computer,” says Carol Martin, her case coordinator at CLASS. “She’s worked hard to develop the skills important to the job she’s chosen for herself. Her self-confidence, computer skills and mobility have taken her exactly where she wants to go.”
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