April is Autism Awareness Month, and Venture Together invites you to meet some amazing people on the autism spectrum who are living empowered, joyful lives and fulfilling their dreams.
Steven Messina’s dream was to reenter the workforce after a medical leave. After reading an article about Venture Together’s Community Pre-vocational program, VentureWorks, he reached out to his parents to see if they could help him become enrolled. They agreed, and after seven months of intensive training focusing on job readiness, he began working at Venture Together’s Just-A-Buck dollar store in Garnerville, NY. Steven loves his new job, his coworkers, the customers, and that he gets to use his amazing mathematical skills while he works the checkout register.
Steven, who has an associate degree in Arts from Rockland Community College, has previously worked at Barnes & Noble and Burlington Coat Factory. He credits his VentureWorks training with helping him learn stress management; sometimes when there’s too much stimuli he can get overwhelmed, but he’s learned methods for coping, including use of a stress ball.
Steven has some advice for people with Autism looking to work in the community: “Start slow, and find a good program where people help you start working.” Steven is grateful to his parents, Jim and Maureen, his co-workers at the Just-A-Buck store, and the entire team at VentureWorks, especially his job coach Jay Gulifield and program director Vanessa Eybers.
Joseph Devargas’ dreams are not unlike anyone else’s: he wants to continue his education, get a job, and travel. As a young man on the autism spectrum, he knows realizing his dreams will take a little more work, but he’s determined.
Since graduating high school, Joe is attending Venture U, Venture Together’s individualized, curriculum-based program designed to lead young adults into the next phase of their lives. There he’s learning the skills he’ll need to accomplish his life goals.
Joe hopes to go back to school, and then find a career, possibly in education. He’d love to be a teaching assistant for younger children. Or, perhaps, a job incorporating his love for animals (dogs and alligators are his favorite – he’s particularly awed by how ancient and powerful gators are). Traveling is also a passion for Joe – his favorite destination so far has been Costa Rica, but he really wants to see Japan someday.
Joe doesn’t see his autism as an obstacle to living his life on his own terms. He has challenges, but also the focus to overcome them. His philosophy to life is “Just keep on moving forward and don’t give up.”