JCCA’s Compass Project helps young people on the autism spectrum (or with other learning and developmental differences) make a successful transition from high school or college to the workplace and independent adulthood. Young adults on the autism ppectrum are often challenged by finding and keeping a job, learning to socialize and making friends. This summer, Compass placed many interns in jobs in a wide range fields such as retail, working with seniors and office work. Cara, a cheerful 17-year-old on the autism spectrum, was one of the interns.

“Compass has helped her every step of the way,” states her mother, Ellen. “First JCCA’s Compass staff interviewed Cara to understand her interests. They spent a lot of time talking with her to find just the right fit. Then they went out to find appropriate placements. Once the placements were made, they arranged for job coaches to support her. In addition, they held weekly sessions to review how the jobs are going and discuss interview skills.” Compass staff also invited the participants to weekly dinners.

Compass succeeded in making the right matches. From learning to create floral arrangements in a florist shop to learning to use a tripod at a photography studio to making new friends in the TJ Maxx stockroom, it has been a stimulating and productive summer for Cara. And she has changed because of it.

One of the key reasons the program was so successful were the JCCA job coaches. “Our coaches work closely with interns and employers on site, offering specific help and counseling. When our interns succeed, everyone succeeds. It’s a win-win for the interns and the employers and it’s great to see our interns gain confidence and ability,” states Sandy Katz, Vice President of Services in the Jewish Community for JCCA.

Cara’s employers praise her work. Lia and Tracey, the owners of Westbury Floral Designs in Westbury, NY, said, “Cara has learned a lot from how to arrange flowers to entering customers' orders into our computer system. It's been a pleasure having her work with us.”

TJ Maxx offered a different type of opportunity. Cara and other interns helped in the stockroom with such tasks as processing clothing, adding security tags and marking sizes. What made the experience special was that she had the opportunity to socialize with the other interns. “It’s really nice to have new friends and hang out with them at lunchtime or at the weekly Compass dinners,” Cara says. Donna Flynn, an assistant manager at TJ Maxx, praised Cara and the interns. “They were wonderful to deal with. And their productivity was very good. Overall their performance met and, in some cases, exceeded our expectations.”

Alex Wolff, of Alex Wolff's Portrait Shoppe of NY, agrees. “Cara has a great attitude and an artistic mindset. It is very rewarding to see her gain new skills and express herself in photography.” Cara adds, “I find photography very creative. But one of the things I learned working with Alex is that I need a real camera, so I can take professional quality photos.”

Her mother says Cara has become a different person as a result of her internships in JCCA’s Compass program. “We see such a difference in the way she carries herself. She is thriving. I have never seen her happier. She is out in the world and she did great work.” Cara adds, “This summer taught me many new things and I have more confidence in myself. I am so grateful to have had this new opportunity to realize that I can be successful in meeting new challenges, and it is wonderful to have new friends.”

To find out more about the Compass Project, click here.