Job Skills Take Root
It’s 8:15 a.m. Like many 18-year-olds, Tristin Compton would love to spend his morning listening to music or watching videos on his iPad. Yet he also yearns for independence and a meaningful job. So, reminded of these goals, he boards a van that transports him to Lewis Ginter. On arrival, he clocks in and pins on his name badge. Then he confidently proceeds to the Children’s Garden.
Tristin is an intern with The Faison Center’s Employment Academy. The Academy aims to prepare individuals with autism, such as Tristin, for employment by building a range of skills and job-specific skills applicable across a variety of career settings. The interns are given opportunities to work at community-partner locations across the region, including Lewis Ginter. The workday can be challenging for individuals with autism, but each is accompanied by an aide who assists while encouraging independence. Day by day, step by step, Tristin works toward achieving his long-term goals.
As Tristin approaches the Children’s Garden, he sees a familiar face: Heather Veneziano, youth program developer. “Good morning, Ms. Heather,” he says. Being able to work alongside staff and other volunteers at Lewis Ginter enables Tristin to practice social and communication skills in a real-world situation. “It’s also his opportunity to integrate in the workplace culture,” says Chris Morgan, program supervisor at the Academy. “He gets to know people and make friends.”
Tristin and his aide review the day’s assignments. The tasks aren’t arbitrary; they’re matched to his interests and abilities. “The list is very fluid, so the interns learn new things and build good skills,” Heather says. “We help them become work-ready by providing vocational services for workforce development.”
Typically, Tristin helps prepare the Children’s Garden for incoming guests – an assignment he takes seriously because it is his job. First, he collects toys buried in the sandbox and rakes and rakes the sand smooth. Next, he wipes down picnic tables, clean signs, or performs other operational tasks. Sometimes he fills soil bags for a future school group programs, which supports counting and organizational skills. Or, he pulls weeds and mulches garden beds. “The diversified experiences help him transition into employment, perhaps in horticulture or grounds maintenance,” Morgan says.
If Tristin becomes frustrated, which is not atypical for students with autism, his aide reminds him to use his coping skills and to communicate what he needs. Sometimes he needs to take a break and relax, or he needs help navigating a social situation with a peer.
Once Tristin graduates from Lewis Ginter’s 12-week internship, he rotates to another community partner. “Lewis Ginter has been a foundation of the Employment Academy,” Morgan says. “Without the Garden’s partnership, we would not be able to help students achieve these goals.”
Tristin’s mom, Sheila, says the family moved to Virginia from Texas to support his education and opportunities. “We want him to achieve and live the best life he can,” she said. “Tristin is not limited, as long as he believes in himself and others believe in him, as well. We couldn’t feel more supported by Faison and the school’s community partners, like Lewis Ginter.”
Lewis Ginter is rooted in vocational partnerships:
- Academy of Virginia Randolph School
- Dominion Waiver
- Faison Center Employment Academy
- Henrico County Cooperative Work Experience Program (7 high schools)
- Henrico Mental Health
- Northstar Career Academy
- Richmond Public Schools
- St. Joseph’s Villa
- The Founders Center
- VCU School of Social Work (therapeutic horticulture program in development)
As published in “Lewis Ginter Magazine,” Summer 2018