Star Inc. helps those with disabilities build Darien careers
For the last six years, Charlie Sherman, a Norwalk resident and client of Star, Inc., Lighting the Way, commutes by train to and from work at the Whole Foods in Darien. At work, Charlie helps customers to their cars, brings in the carts and packs groceries. “I love working at Whole Foods. I feel like a part of the team there and I really like the independence I feel working and earning a paycheck,” Charlie said.
In addition to Charlie, there are seven other Star clients who currently have rewarding careers in Darien, Star says. Denise Sapione is a six-year employee at Andrew Stefanou Salon & Spa. Adolfo Nunez celebrates one year at Southfield Center and the Tokeneke Club has employed Bobby Vento for six years. The new cars at BMW of Darien have been even shinier because of Stephen Grubiak’s seven years there. Likewise, Bjorn Swarting enjoys several years at Darien Sport Shop and Tom Gogolak has been at the Darien YMCA since 2001. Finally, if you have shopped at Stop and Shop in Noroton Heights in the last 21 years you surely have seen Adriano Gatto who proudly walks to work from his STAR-supported home on Edgerton Street, the agency says. These job sites join a long list of Darien businesses who have a history of supporting Star clients on the job including Nielsen’s Florist, Michael Joseph’s Fine Foods, Country Club of Darien, Wee Burn Country Club, Woodway Country Club, and more.
Current research indicates that only 15 percent of people with intellectual and development disabilities (I/DD) are employed, according to Star. However, with the right supports, many people with I/DD can build a career alongside their peers without disabilities. Katie Banzhaf, executive director of STAR, says, “We like to think that our job placement results and the richness of our other community-based opportunities for people impacted by I/DD not only teach life skills, but actually engage our participants in safe, happy, healthy and active lives that match their personal interests and goals.”
Star notes it is recognized as a leading agency in Connecticut in job placements, coaching, and hours worked competitively by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Star Inc., Lighting the Way provides customized job placement, enrichment classes and volunteer opportunities for clients in Fairfield County. Star has a team of professional job developers, employment managers and job coaches who work with local individuals and network with businesses to create job opportunities and supervise training as well as finding locations to host classes in life, social, arts, and recreational skills. Some of the Darien businesses that have hosted Star clients for community-based activities include Hands on Pottery, Dynamic Athletics, Dance on the DL, Darien Arts Center, Yes and Company, Darien Nature Center, Wee Burn Country Club, Chocolate Works and Barrett Bookstore.
Star says it is proud to help graduating local high school seniors with I/DD transition to meaningful employment and continued inclusion in their local community, finding many their “first job.” In addition to generous support from local donors, Star is thankful to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation for its history of supporting STAR’s “My First Job” Program for graduating seniors and adults with I/DD. Martha Spiegel, one of two job developers at Star, says, "It is incredibly rewarding to see firsthand the support and enthusiasm from the community and our business partners. Together with our community business partners, we are able to place people with I/DD in productive and paying jobs while creating win-win-win scenarios. Our average tenure of people placed in jobs is now over 9.5 years. That says it all.”
Star, Inc., Lighting the Way is a nonprofit organization established in 1952 to serve individuals of all ages who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as providing support services to their families. Star creates opportunities for individuals to live full lives with independence, freedom of choice and personal growth by providing support, services and advocacy. Headquartered in Norwalk, with offices at 111 Elm Street, New Canaan; 15 Cross Street, Norwalk; 120 East Avenue, Norwalk and homes and supported apartments throughout Fairfield County, Star annually serves over 600 individuals from birth through their senior years.
For more information, visit www.starct.org.