PISCATAWAY, NJ – Several autistic students from the Educational Service Commission’s Piscataway campus were treated to some fun as they teamed up to sell specialty popcorn to hungry fans at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Monday.
According to a Thursday news release, “the four students, Arthur Harris, Michael Ciaccio and Marcus Wilson from ESCNJ’s Pathway to Adult Living Program (PAL) and Jonathan Gomez from the Future Foundations Academy (FFA) had the opportunity to serve popcorn at the Eagles v. Giants game on Dec. 9 as part of their jobs with the non-profit organization, Popcorn for the People.”
“Popcorn for the People, an organization dedicated to creating meaningful employment for those with autism and developmental disabilities. Their goal is to combat the current 80% unemployment rate among individuals with autism,” said officials in the release.
“This employment opportunity of a lifetime was made possible through the Eagles Autism Foundation and Aramark, the Philadelphia Eagles food and beverage partner at Lincoln Financial Field, who teamed up with Popcorn for the People to help increase employment opportunities for individuals with autism.
“ESCNJ and its programs have been involved with Popcorn for the People for four years. Prior, students have had the chance to serve popcorn at other sporting events at Rutgers University and local street fairs.”
“Our students’ work at Rutgers University events have prepared them for a job of this size,” said Ivelisse Reyes, one of ESCNJ’s job coaches, as the students waited at the Popcorn for the People location in Piscataway for their transportation to the big game.
“I can see the difference in their confidence as we stand here today versus when they first started with Popcorn for the People,” Reyes said. “They are no longer nervous but more excited for this incredible opportunity.”
The Eagles provided the students and job coaches with transportation to and from the game. Four job coaches accompanied the students to provide support, if needed.
As the bus pulled up, the students could barely contain their excitement as they all lined up at the window to take a peek at their ride to Philly.
Lindsey Medeiros, another job coach, said that it's an honor to have students representing ESCNJ at a nationally-televised professional game.
“This is what we’ve been preparing for,” she said. “I could barely believe it when I heard they would be working a professional sporting event. All of these students have worked so hard and this honor is very deserving.”
The PAL program is designed to ensure a successful transition to independent living for students ages 18-21, said program officials. FFA provides specialized classroom and community-based instruction to students with autism.
“Popcorn for the People provides some of our students with their first paid jobs after completing high school and we cannot thank them enough for the support they have provided to us,” said Raissa Prus, the supervisor of Community-based Instruction for ESCNJ.
The ESCNJ students are waiting to see if they will be working at the Eagles next home game, Sunday, Dec. 22.
“They are willing, able and ready to dress warm,” said officials.
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