By Michael Hill
The CDC says New Jersey has one of the highest rates of autism spectrum disorder. Count college graduate David Santoro among the autistic who struggled to find a job.
“I’m trying to find a job and getting rejected over and over again, I just didn’t know where to look,” he said.
Santoro turned to Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest New Jersey. JVS educates, trains and prepares those with autism for careers in storing medical records and in the clothing industry, to name a couple. It’s helped Santoro land two jobs. One, a sports photographer and another working in a fresh produce market.
“It’s a good program. It really has helped,” he said.
“We bring out the best in each client. We find what their passions are, what their skills are and really they just flourish while they’re here at JVS,” said Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest NJ CEO Addy Bonet.
“Seby” Clement is doing more than just stacking grocery shelves. He’s matching skew numbers on the products with the numbers taped to the shelves. He came to JVS about a year ago. His goals are set.
“I’d rather work at ShopRite, organize the carts, work at a store, something like that,” he said.
“He’s learning about punctuality and transportation, which is the big thing. Getting there on time, being able to read a bus schedule,” said his mother, Gina Clement.
Victoria Krug does the hands-on training and says lack of social skills often is the biggest hurdle.
“And while they’re here, we give them a safe, closed-door environment where it’s quiet and they get to focus on really just learning about themselves and how to better themselves for the workplace,” she said.
“When you see this satisfaction on their faces once a client has been placed, it’s priceless,” said JVS Employment Specialist Janet Sewell.
JVS’ training and jobs program does so much more for those with autism than just preparing them for physical skills in the real world.
“I feel that he’s confident. His self esteem is way out of orbit and he’s happy. And I think that’s what important. He’s very happy. He feels complete. Compared to always wanting to be part of something, he is part of this organization. And I think that’s so helpful because he feels he belongs,” said Gina Clement.
In this Autism Awareness Month, parents like Gina Clement consider JVS not just a lifesaver, but a life changer.