Drew Danter, of Melville, an intern at the Sid Jacobson...

Drew Danter, of Melville, an intern at the Sid Jacobson JCC, works the register at the center's cafe on July 19.

Credit: Danielle Silverman

Drew Danter enjoys working the cash register at Sid Jacobson JCC cafe, where he says he's learning skills to prepare him for the future. 

An intern, Danter, 24, has worked at the East Hills community center for nearly five years, stocking shelves and taking inventory four days a week for about two hours each day. 

Danter, of Melville, said he aspires to one day get a full-time job and "live independently."

“My big dream is that I want to travel around the world,” Danter, said.

Danter, who has autism, is one of 57 interns in the community center's "Program without Walls" training, where adults with disabilities are given opportunities to build skills needed to enter the workforce. They work at the cafe, the center’s food bank or perform maintenance work around the facility. Recently, the center was awarded a $35,000 grant from the nonprofit UJA-Federation of New York that will go toward hiring people with disabilities when the center expands its cafe hours, said Heather Schulz, director of vocational life skills training center. 

New hires will be paid $16 an hour, said Ross M. Wallenstein, a spokesman for JCC.

Officials said the JCC will consider applicants internally and externally, taking into account previous internship experience and other relevant work history. They are currently hiring with the expectation that new employees will start in September.

July also commemorates Disability Pride Month, which focuses on the history, achievements, experiences and struggles of the disability community. Former President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination. 

Joe Zesski, program manager at the Northeast ADA Center, said any effort to "improve the employment outcome for people with disabilities is very valuable" since the population is "chronically underemployed."

Schulz said the JCC center fully supports "hiring, training and getting job-ready people with special needs to be hardworking, thoughtful and productive members of our society," not only in July but all year.

Nationwide, 21.3% of persons with a disability were employed in 2022, up from 19.1% in 2021, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released in February.

The JCC training program, Schulz noted, is designed to help individuals with disabilities reach their full potential in their personal and professional lives.

The center wanted to "create job opportunities within our cafe because we have a business need to increase the hours we’re operating and we saw the opportunity to have these positions specially be for people with disabilities,” Schulz said.

Intern Brett Kane, 22, of Garden City, who does clerical work for the center and helps in the cafe, also hopes to gain permanent employment. 

Kane, who was also diagnosed with autism, said the experience at JCC has given him more confidence “going out into the community.”

His support staff said he is someone who has “extreme talents when it comes to organization and clerical work.”

“Teaching them the job skills and having the ability to self-advocate is something we can take pride in this program,” said Kristin Moran, program training coordinator at the center.

"It helps them build their resume in ways people don’t think they’re capable of.”

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