Center Offers Vocational Training for People with Disabilities

By Lauren Wanko

At a production center in Eatontown, clothing store hangers are sorted, boxes are loaded for shipment, labels are attached to dog toys. It’s all done by job trainees, participants of the Center for Vocational Rehabilitation.

“We want people to be able to go out every day and serve the community and feel good about themselves and earn a paycheck,” said Vice President of Employment Services Maria De Seno.

CVR, a nonprofit founded more than 50 years ago, provides vocational programs to people with disabilities. Their goal? To train participants and help them land jobs in the community. Trainees learn a number of different skills like packaging, light assembly, shrink wrapping and how to operate a forklift.

Here in the production center, trainees are doing work for businesses based in the area. Those companies reach out to CVR, pay the nonprofit for the work completed and CVR gives these trainees a paycheck.

When asked if he feels like the training really helped him a lot from when he first started, Christian Barlow said, “A lot! Amazing!”

Barlow works here five days a week. He says he spends his weekends working too — at McDonalds and at a family business.

Does he ever get tired? “No. Not until night time at 9 p.m.,” he said.

Pauline Naturile’s putting labels on bottles. She says she loves working here.

“It means a lot to me,” she said. How so? “You know, just to get the work out fast enough and when the people come in to take them out to stores and stuff.”

“It builds self esteem and confidence. This is what a lot of people want to do, they want to be a contribution to the community,” said CVR President and CEO Russell Anderson.

CVR works with about 500 people. Participants are 16 or older. The nonprofit serves residents in Monmouth, Ocean, Mercer and Middlesex counties.

“A lot of research has been done in this area for vocational awareness and we find that working on a production floor really gives the best barometer for someone’s success out in the community,” De Seno said. How so? “Well there’s just so many different areas and we can assess people’s speed, we can assess their interests and we can assess any barriers they’re going to have, things that we need to work on.”

De Seno says participants can take as long as necessary at CVR. When they’re ready, job counselors are standing by.

“We get them into our supportive employment program which is community based employment and they have an employment specialist who would develop a position in the community for them based on their needs and interests and work with them on site at their job to learn how to do their job,” De Seno said.

Many former trainees now work in supermarkets, hospitals, nursing homes and other businesses.

“Twenty people a month we have out in the communities, 15 to 20 people every month,” Anderson said. “In jobs, competitive employment.”

“It totally can turn someone’s life around,” De Seno said.

What’s the best part for Sam Shifa a participant in the program? “That I have a job,” he said.