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Whelen Engineering, Inc., CEO George Whelen accepts the Employee Spotlight Award from Chapel Haven Schleifer Center President Michael Storz. (Photo by Karena Garrity/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Partnership for Achievement through Vocational Experience intern Liam Bishop poses with his volunteer mentor Kristen Carver at Whelen Engineering, Inc. (Photo by Karena Garrity/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Innovation is the name of the game for Chester company Whelan Engineering, Inc., which was recently recognized for being first in Middlesex County for a program integrating adult interns with autism.
Whelen Engineering, Inc., was presented the Employer Spotlight Award from Chapel Haven at an April 3 ceremony held at Whelen’s Chester location. The ceremony was attended by the three student interns participating in the 10-month Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition program run by the Chapel Haven Schleifer Center in New Haven.
This work-based learning program is part of the Partnership for Achievement through Vocational Experience or PAVE that Chapel Haven has developed to help its clients learn new work and social skills that will help ready them for future employment. The program at Whelen, which will run through June, is Chapel Haven’s second PAVE site; its first is Yale New Haven Hospital, which has been part of the program for several years now.
“We are so appreciative that the CEO of Whelen, George Whelen, recognizes that our adults have energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to bring to the workplace and we are grateful for this opportunity. This award recognizes his innovation,” said Chapel Haven’s President Michael Storz. “We are so grateful that Whelen has made a commitment to training and to impacting the lives of adults living with diverse abilities. Whelen manufactures products that save lives and now the same company is saving lives in a different way by giving our adults a chance, and preparing them for a more productive fulfilling future.”
“I can not remember a day when I smiled this much,” said Jill Bishop, whose 20-year-old son Liam Bishop is part of the program. “It has literally changed his life and it will keep changing his life, because now he has the confidence and experience to go out in the real world and work. We are so happy and so proud.”
“This has been a great experience for me,” said Liam Bishop. “I have especially enjoyed the camaraderie here. Everyone has been very nice.”
He added, “I am most proud of how proud I can make everyone else when I do what they need me to do, the way they need me to do it.”
Bishop is working on computer applications involving Microsoft Word and Excel with volunteer mentor and longtime Whelen employee Kristen Carver.
“This whole experience has been wonderful,” said Carver. “I am so excited to be working with Liam, he is such a pleasure to be around. He is extraordinary and he teaches me just as much, if not more than I teach him.”
“The PAVE program helps our interns build skills and improve their level of independence in the community,” explained Kim Freeman employment training supervisor for Chapel Haven.
The interns travel from New Haven to Chester three times a week to be part of the program and are on site at Whelen from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.. They not only learn new working skills, but they interact with other employees and share in lunch hour conversations, which is a large part of the social component of the program.
For 20-year-old Blake Rutt, who likes to eat Skittles and soda on his break, this program is something for which his mother Ellen Keane is extremely thankful.
“I think everyone at Whelen should be extraordinarily proud of themselves for being part of this program. The opportunity and exposure this gives our students and children is invaluable. When special education ends for our kids, they end up going out into the world either underemployed or unemployed and that’s a shame, but this program changes that.”
She added, “What Whelen is doing here is providing a real-world classroom, at a quality, cutting edge of technology international company and this can and should be replicated by other companies all over the country.”
George Whelen said that he chose to be part of this program because he knew that the culture at Whelen would be a welcoming one.
“I knew we had the caring and willing staff here that would make this program a great success and it has been,” said Whelen. “It’s been a lot of fun and everyone has been encouraging. Now we need to move forward and find out how we make this a sustainable activity with Chapel Hill and others in our community. We have all learned so much and hopefully, we can continue to scale this program. We are all looking forward to the future of this collaboration.”
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