While much of The New England Center for Children’s (NECC) educational programming revolves around helping students learn daily skills and achieve academic objectives, a student’s vocational education is also paramount to their growth and development. Led by Julie Weiss, MSEd, BCBA, LABA, NECC’s Vocational Services program provides students with the opportunity to develop on-the-job skills, define career interests, and obtain jobs at NECC and around the community to earn income and experience.  The program, which begins when students reach their fourteenth birthday, would not be possible without the support of local companies who employ some of our students.

The first of these companies to partner with NECC’s vocational program was Sun Life Financial. The company has employed three former NECC students for more than 20 years at their Wellesley, MA office, and also have another current student working there as well. The three former students, Scott Lawson, Jeanine Lazili, and Candy Gehan work in office administrative assistant roles completing a variety of tasks for the company. Over time, as the three have gotten more and more comfortable at work, their roles have grown more complex. Although the three do not work in the same role at the company, they do use many of the same skills to complete their tasks, such as printing, photo copying, and reviewing documents. Much of the reason why they have had increasing responsibility with the company is because of their hard work, however, the support of Sun Life, from management to colleagues, cannot be overlooked.

“Sun Life is the first corporation we got into. 20 years ago they were the one company that said, ‘Come on in,’” says Weiss about NECC’s relationship with Sun Life. “They have been so good about working with people with disabilities, working with our job coaches and truly taking our students into the company and having them as members of their team. They are valued members of the company.”

Sun Life shows their appreciation for Scott, Jeanine, and Candy’s hard work in a number of ways. In addition to having the support of their colleagues and superiors, the other employees make every effort to be inclusive according to Rachel Wheeler, a program coordinator for Scott, Jeanine, and Candy’s team. In addition to this inclusive attitude exemplified by every member of the Sun Life team, the company also offers the trio full benefits.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about Sun Life’s inclusion efforts is how consistent they have been over time.

“As the company has grown and changed, they have kept Scott, Jeanine, and Candy employed every step of the way,” says Weiss. “They have recreated and trained new jobs countless times to make sure they are still part of the team.”

The relationship between NECC and Sun Life is truly mutually beneficial. Sun Life gets three hardworking employees who enjoy their jobs, all three mention how much they enjoy working with their fellow employees, socializing, and doing a good job, and NECC gets a valuable, supportive partner who plays an integral role in the vocational program. Though the program has grown, and NECC has gained other corporate partners, no company exemplifies what it means to be inclusive like Sun Life.

“We are incredibly lucky to have them,” says Weiss. “We are so excited to continue growing and fostering our relationship with them.”

About The New England Center for Children

The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) is an award-winning autism education center and research institute. Our community of teachers, researchers, and clinicians have transformed the lives of thousands of children with autism worldwide through education, research, and technology. The Center provides comprehensive services to maximize independence: home-based, day, and residential programs, partner classrooms in public school systems, consulting services, the ACE® ABA Software System (www.acenecc.org), teacher professional development, and research on educational best practices.

NECC is committed to staff professional development, partnering with local colleges to provide on-site graduate training and degrees at little to no cost to the NECC teacher. The result is a growing pool of exceptional teachers trained in best-in-class methodologies, whether they continue their careers at NECC or move on to public schools or private agencies. The New England Center for Children is based in Southborough, MA. Learn more at www.necc.org.