Located in Princeton, Eden Autism is nationally known with a mission to improve the lives of people with autism: one individual at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time. Among the many different programs and services it offers, Eden is extremely proud of its Employment First initiative.

Employment First is a national effort based on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in increased community-based, integrated employment, and community life. Eden continues to expand its own Employment Program as it identifies new opportunities for its high school students and adult participants, showing that inclusion works.

More than 60 percent of Eden’s adult participants are engaged in community-based competitive employment, and over the past year Eden has doubled the amount of students within this program while also increasing the number of job sampling opportunities and in house-placements available to them.

An equally impressive number Eden is proud to report on is that 78 of its adult participants are now gainfully employed in 30 different companies, organizations, and businesses all located within Mercer and Somerset counties. These individuals now have job opportunities matching their skill sets and passions, offered through employment partners at locations that include Hyatt Regency Princeton, Johnson & Johnson, Eno Terra, U.S. 1, Hamilton Jewelers, and Wawa. Wawa, Eden’s largest employment partner, now employs 23 Eden adults at 14 different NJ locations in a partnership that began back in 1981.

Peter Bell, president and CEO of Eden Autism, says, “we are proud not only of our students and adults who have overcome challenges and obstacles to become a part of the New Jersey workforce but also of our employment partners who made a bold statement and said, ‘YES, I will employ someone with a disability.’ It is through their eyes that we see how our participants have helped to enrich the lives of those they work alongside — serving as teachers themselves and inspiring co-workers to strive for greater job satisfaction.”

To enhance the program, Eden has also created an Employment Support Committee (ESP). The ESP is made up of Employment Teams from both their school and adult programs along with members from their clinical, speech, and IT departments. The committee was formed to learn from each other’s experiences and come up with creative approaches while maximizing resources available to their students and adults. The ESP also helps provide what is meant to be a seamless transition from school employment programs into adult employment programs.

“The Eden Employment Program allows both students graduating from the Eden School as well as our adult participants the opportunity to take part not only in job sampling, but actual community employment as well,” adds Rachel Tait, Eden’s chief program officer.

The program continues to develop and branch out with job placements expanding to libraries, hotels, restaurants, law offices, doctor’s offices, churches, movie theatres, and fitness centers throughout the greater Princeton area.

There is still more to be done to ensure a future where workplaces are inclusive and employees are accepted for their abilities rather than overlooked because of a disability. With the ever growing list of Eden employment partners, it is clear they are headed down the right path.

If you are interested in partnering with Eden in its Employment First Program, please reach out to their Employment Team at jobcoaches@edenautism.org and join the growing list of proud partners.

Eden Autism, 2 Merwick Road, Princeton. 609-987-0099. www.edenautism.org.

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