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$40,000 Walmart Grant Helps Adults at Chatham-based Special Needs Program Find Jobs

CPS Director, Alison Chernela (second from left), with Assistant Director Mary Griggs and clients, Maria Gonzalez, Jeremy Graffox and Ian Jackson, with Walmart's Kelly Jensen. Credits: by Amalia Duarte

Ian Jackson of Morristown was excited to meet higher-ups from Walmart, where he’s worked for a little more than a year as an associate.

He was happy to chat about his job and pose for pictures with an over-size check, but he kept glancing at his watch. Foremost on his mind was making sure that he was on time for his noon shift at the Cedar Knolls Walmart. You see, usually, he shows up early. “I don’t want to be late,” he told Kelly Jensen, a Walmart Field Representative Administrative Assistant II who was making the check presentation.

She assured Jackson there was plenty of time to get to work, but finally he blurted out, “I’ve got to leave!”

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This dedication to work is just one reason why adults like Jackson are valued by their employers. “The feedback from employers about our clients is extremely positive. Our clients really appreciate having an opportunity to work and earn a paycheck,” said Community Personnel Services (CPS) Director, Alison Chernela. “They show up on time. They work hard and pay attention to detail. They are excited to take on new responsibilities. They stay focused on one task for a long time.”

Based in Chatham, CPS serves about 300 people like Jackson across 10 counties in New Jersey. These adults have a range of disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, physical challenges, cognitive or medical impairments. Founded in 1995, as an affiliate of ECLC of New Jersey, the nonprofit has an impressive job placement rate of 98%.

Thanks to the Walmart Foundation, CPS has just gotten a big boost. The Foundation has given CPS a $40,000 grant to continue helping adults with disabilities maintain work within their communities; develop new skills; and live as independently as possible.

The Walmart Foundation’s State Giving Program supports charities and organizations that create opportunities so that people in their community can live healthier and happier. In the second cycle of their yearly grant-giving, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have given more than $500,000 to nonprofit organizations in New Jersey.

“We are extremely grateful to the Walmart Foundation for this generous grant. It will help us transition students into the adult world and enable us to support clients in the workplace,” said Chernela. “The needs of our clients are unique. Our services don’t stop when they find a job. Even if everything is going well, we stay in touch to ensure their ongoing success.”

Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month

The check presentation was timely. In the Fall, the federal government recognizes the importance of giving work opportunities to people with disabilities.

October marked the 71th observance of “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” which celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities. The theme for 2016 is: " #InclusionWorks.”

CPS can attest that inclusion does work. CPS employment specialists partner with some 60 New Jersey businesses, including child care centers, retailers, grocery stories, pharmacies, movie theaters, assisted-living facilities, restaurants and more, to find suitable jobs.

Another client at the check presentation, Maria Gonzalez of Elizabeth, is seeking a job through CPS at a child care center. A gentle, soft-spoken, young woman, Gonzalez is an award-winning singer, who graduated in 2014 from ECLC’s school in Chatham for students with special needs.

After the check presentation was over, Gonzalez sweetly offered to sing a few refrains from Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” It was a beautiful way to end the meeting on a high note.

Lifelong Services

CPS is part of ECLC’s network of nonprofit services offering, “Education, Careers & Lifelong Community” to nearly 800 children and adults with special needs.

Established in 1970, ECLC is an accredited, nonprofit and serves children and adults from 11 New Jersey counties. These programs offer families peace of mind that their child with special needs – no matter what age -- will be supported for as long as desired.

The support begins at ECLC’s two special-needs schools in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus for children ages 5-21. The educational program and services, such as occupational and physical therapy, are tailored to meet the needs of each student. Students also have a chance to fully participate in every school activity, including sports, clubs, Student Council, after-school trips and more. They receive workplace skills training starting at age 14 and closer to graduation, they sample jobs in the community.

The goal is to prepare students to live as independently as possible. CPS begins working with students in their final year of school, providing Transition Services to help them move into the adult world.

After graduation, students who will be working continue to receive services through CPS. Students who are not ready for work can transition into ECLC’s P.R.I.D.E. Adult Program, with centers in Florham Park and Paramus, or another program or alternative option.

About ECLC

Please call Public Relations Director Amalia Duarte ( or 973-635-1705 X26), to schedule a tour of the schools or adult programs. For more information about the Chatham school, contact Principal Diane Gagliardi ( or 973-635-1700).

ECLC is a member of the Alliance of Private Special Education Schools of North Jersey, a coalition of more than 30 state-approved private special education schools dedicated to helping parents and educators better understand and access appropriate program options.

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