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Art By: George Ortiz

Congratulations to Project Search Class of 2015

Posted on : 07/07/2015

Message from Executive Director Ric Swierat

I recently participated in the Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism* graduation where I served as Master of Ceremonies. It is always an honor to see the graduating class in their caps and gowns, beaming with pride as they walk down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance. This year’s event was extra special for two reasons: at nine students, it was our largest class to date, and the first to include women – two, in fact! Members of the graduating class are Alex Vaughn, Brian Roach, Carissa Vallarelli, Carolyn Castioni, Gianfranco Siciliano, Johann Mier, Robert Granda, Steven Silvagni and Victoria Cox.

When I addressed the graduates, I began with a quote by one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain, who said the two most important days in his life were the day he was born, and the day he figured out why he was born.

For the men and women who sat before me that morning, this particular day was one of the most important in their young lives: it marked the beginning of their new adventure as responsible community citizens. They were poised to take that next big step, when they would enter the workforce and begin using the skills they acquired through the Project SEARCH program.

Upon graduation, these individuals join our renowned employment program. I'm so proud of how Arc of Westchester not only finds them jobs, but also how our job coaches help ease the transition and guide them to success. We work with over 250 local businesses as our employment partners, and can boast a 90% employment rate, which greatly surpasses the national average of 20%. 

Our jobs program is well known throughout the country, and - I recently learned - across the ocean! A few weeks back, I received a visit from Professor Willfred Mitchell from Ireland who wanted to learn more about Arc of Westchester's employment program. His school, Parkanaur College, Dungannon, is Northern Ireland’s only residential learning facility for young people with disabilities. The school is located in the picturesque Parkanaur estate which was built in the mid 1800’s. Home to 24 students ages 18 and older with intellectual, physical and/or sensory disabilities, Willfred hopes to enhance the school’s jobs program and provide more opportunities to his graduates.

I had the pleasure to speak with Willfred at length about how we structure our employment services and supports. We discussed Arc’s symbiotic relationship with local businesses and how our trained job coaches play a significant role in each individual’s employment success. We talked about how Arc inspires local businesses to partner with us, and how we help each business find the right person for the job. I was proud to be able to share our best practices with Willfred and I look forward to hearing about his progress back in Ireland.

Willfred’s quest for information to benefit his school reminded me a lot of the graduates’ quest for information to enhance their lives and the lives of others. Both sought wisdom to improve their situations, and both found answers with Arc of Westchester’s help.

As I ended my speech to those eager young Project SEARCH graduates, I encouraged each one to really think about what they wanted in their life. I encouraged them to think big - and without limits to their dreams, discover where they need to be, and find out why they were born. Our congratulations to the Class of 2015!  

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* PSCA was created by New York Collaborates for Autism in partnership with New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Arc of Westchester, Southern Westchester BOCES and ACCESS-VR. Clinical support is provided by the NYP/Center for Autism and the Developing Brain.  PSCA is based on the national Project SEARCH program created at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and was made possible through a grant from New York Collaborates for Autism from the proceeds of Comedy Central’s 2012 Night of Too Many Stars.

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