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Program Helps Adults With Special Needs Learn Skills, Find Work

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PASADENA (CBS) — There are lots of programs available for kids with autism and special needs, but many times when they grow up and are ready for a job, options can seem limited.

But one program is giving teens and adults the opportunity to show their stuff to get jobs and bring home that paycheck. It is called AbilityFirst.

On time and on schedule, Alberto Suazo is picking up and shredding confidential papers from Bolton & Company in Pasadena.

It is difficult to put a number on the sheets of paper that he shreds each day.

“A lot, all over the city,” Suazo said.

He has autism and works with AbilityFirst’s shredding service.

The organization provides programs for those with special needs — from camps to housing to work centers — and employment opportunities for teens and adults.

“We have job-training programs where adults with developmental disabilities can either work in one of our locations with a job coach where they’re learning a skill and they’re learning the soft skills and getting along with coworkers. Eventually many of them go to work in the community,” said Lori Gangemi, CEO of AbilityFirst.

That is what happened for Suazo, who started working at the AbilityFirst work center in Pasadena — a supervised facility that does everything from stacking to boxing. John Valencia is his job coach and said that at first it was hard for Suazo, even showing up and staying at the center.

“But in time he got used to it and now he’s working at the shred truck. It’s an amazing transition,” Valencia said.

Ron Wanglin, the chairman of Bolton & Company, has been using AbilityFirst’s shredding services for almost 10 years. His company deals with highly-confidential insurance documents and he is more than confidant with the services he is getting, not to mention what the organization is doing.

“All of us have different skill sets and competency and people with special needs also have special abilities. It’s a matter of identifying the abilities that can work to support us,” Wanglin said.

Support is coming from many companies, who realize that this is not about disability, but ability. Others companies, who hire people from AbilityFirst, include DirectTV, Albertsons, Ralphs, Staples Center, Knott’s Berry Farm, UPS, Sears and many more. The list is growing and AbilityFirst hopes that others will get on board.

As Suazo picks papers up, he picks himself us. He is part of a community, part of society. It is more than just a job; it’s a feeling of belonging, something that cannot be described on paper.

Stephanie’s Day, a resource fair to help inform and connect families of children with special needs, including autism, will be held Saturday, August 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the CBS lot in Studio City. Admission and parking will be free.

» Learn More About Stephanie’s Day
» Learn More About AbilityFirst
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