When my daughter, Carly, turned 16, she knew it was time to get a job. We had been talking this up for several years. “It’s what good, responsible citizens in our family do over the summer when they are 16,” we said with conviction.
She knew we also expected her younger twin brothers to do the same when the time came, which helped motivate compliance. Gotta keep up with those brothers . . .
But in Carly’s case, with a recent diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, we knew the path to summer employment would have to be a more, ahem, creative one.
When a friend in my phenomenal network of “special moms” (Thanks, Lisa!) told me about a new store called Girl AGain that had just opened in Hartsdale, Carly and I worked on her resume, and Carly sent an email to founder, Marjorie Madfis, requesting an interview.
“What do you mean I can’t wear my SNEAKERS to the interview? The tag on this new blouse is so scratchy!”
After some initial “feedback” from Carly, the rest, as they say, is history. Eighteen months later, including the store’s relocation from Hartsdale to larger digs in White Plains, Carly finished her Girl AGain internship.
During her store residency she was job-coached by Clinical Psychologist, Sheri Baron, who worked on many of Carly’s IEP goals. Sheri soon became a sounding board and friend to both Carly and me.
Carly learned what it means to be a working girl in hands-on, experiential ways: sorting doll, accessory and clothing donations by category; looking up fair market value online to price items appropriately; arranging shelves in ways to best show off merchandise; greeting and helping customers; stuffing goodie bags for workshops; “swiffering” the store’s floor before closing, and then doing it again, right and carefully, a second time; cleaning dolls’ faces and removing lint from their felt hats with scotch tape (so very challenging with ADHD); even organizing a successful American Girl donation drive at our church to benefit the store.
What else did she learn?
Did you know: Even if you’ve had a rough day at school, you need to show up to work afterwards with a smile and the best attitude you can muster?
Were you aware: When your job requires a uniform, you need to make sure you can find your pink American Girl baseball cap in your impossibly messy room, and wash your Girl AGain shirt so it’s ready for your next shift?
Carly knows this now.
And better still, she has generalized much of the knowledge gained in the store to conquer subsequent school, volunteer, work, and life situations.
So, for example, those lessons in wearing the right uniform for the job really came in handy when Carly was asked to wear a (sensory alert!) hair net for her BOCES* Culinary Arts program last year. And bringing that smile along to this year’s Senior Center internship, “no matter what,” has made her a darling among the geriatric set.
Carly has one more year in our school district, after this 2016-17 school year, and spring-boarding off of her Girl AGain experience, we have made job readiness a priority in preparation for the year she turns 21.
While Carly rotates through Office Skills, Retail Baking, and Carpentry vocational stints at BOCES this year, as well as that internship in the Recreation Department of the nearby Senior Center, we are busy planning for next year. No doubt she will be drawing on some of those generalized skills from Girl AGain in one of the several vocational training programs to which she is applying.
And building on the gains she made at the Girl AGain store plus her other programs, with additional support from ACCES-VR** and BOCES, Carly is hoping to secure her next summer job. After all, it’s what good citizens in our family do.
- Ann Searle Horowitz
Ann Searle Horowitz is a freelance writer with 8 magazine publication credits, the Head Coach of the New Rochelle YMCA Sailfish Swim Team, and proud mom of 3 teens . . . who will all be working this summer.
*BOCES is the New York State Board of Cooperational Educational Services that offers programs for k-12 that school districts can access, as well as adult educational programs.
** ACCES-VR is the New York State Vocational Rehabilitation agency that provides employment services to people with disabilities.
Yes She Can, a nonprofit, operates Girl AGain as a job skills development program for young women with autism spectrum disorders. This story was originally published on the Yes She Can Blog.