Talents of various kinds were put to work as clients, staff, and supporters of Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest NJ took part in a celebration of Autism Awareness Month at its East Orange Vocational Rehabilitation Center last week.
Some two dozen clients of JVS’s Career Center — geared specifically for people with an autism spectrum disorder — had the opportunity to play games with an advocacy theme, write poems, create art, and socialize.
One client showed his verbal wit in a JVS-oriented game of Mad Libs; another drew applause with his guitar playing. Perhaps the loudest “wow!” came when one of the clients drew a portrait of another, working slowly and methodically until she had a unmistakable likeness. Her “model” beamed with delight.
The activities at the April 24 party were for fun, but the event also demonstrated the JVS team’s work with autism-spectrum clients, drawing out people’s strengths while also helping them develop strategies to overcome limitations. In particular with this group, communication and social skills are a priority.
The JVS Career Center was started in 2011 and funded in part by grants from the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey. Its services are offered free to clients. JVS is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
“They have taught me how to handle job interviews, so I can make a better impression,” said a neatly dressed young man, speaking slowly and clearly into the microphone. (JVS asked that clients not be identified by name.)
Another client has a degree in environmental studies and a certificate in medical billing and coding, but no job experience. With the agency’s help, said a JVS staffer, she has been able to get an internship with the neurology department at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
Among the guests were JVS board president Sid Seligman, trustee Bruce Cohen, past board president Mort Bunis and his wife Anita, and the parents of several clients. They watched, nodding with approval at the displays of ability.
“That’s really good,” exclaimed Mort Bunis, as a client shyly revealed her portrait of her fellow client. “She sold three pictures last summer,” the artist’s mother said. “Now she is learning to draw comics.”
While art might not be the easiest way to earn a living, she acknowledged, her daughter is learning — with JVS’s help — to navigate that path.