Robert Apone and his family have been part of The Arc family for many years. We’ve watched Robert grow from a teenager into a young adult, eager for his first job. Like many, Robert and his family see this as an important rite of passage from childhood to adult.
Two years ago, Robert added job training to his personal goals. It was clear he would need a lot of coaching to learn the basic work skills required for any job, but he was determined and his father James was his partner and advocate in this. With all that going for him, good things were bound to happen.
Sometimes the hardest part of job coaching is figuring out what kind of job a trainee is best suited for. This is not just a question of job skills, but interest and enthusiasm. We all know it’s easier to go to work every day when you like your job and your boss – so making sure there’s a good fit is one of the most important predictors of success on the job.
One day, Robert and his father were going to UAA’s bookstore, adjacent to which is the outdoor playground for Tanaina Child Development Center.
That day, one small child was off by himself near the fence, clearly unhappy. Robert made a beeline for the child. Staff members were understandably concerned about his intent, so they moved in closer. What they saw amazed them: Robert put his hand up against the fence, palm open, and talked quietly to the little boy, who raised his eyes from the ground and then his little hand, matching his fingers to Robert’s on the other side of the fence. He stopped crying and began smiling. A few minutes later he ran off to join his peers.
It was clear that Robert had a gift for relating to children. The staff who observed this interaction became his champion. But like all day care centers, there are many, many rules and regulations governing the hiring process for the protection of the children . . . fingerprints, background checks, references, etc. Then there were personnel changes midway through, which set the process back. Robert persevered through the long delays and once again wowed everyone in the “hands on” part of his job interview, where he would be interacting with the children.
As he got over his initial shyness, Robert became a magnet. They gravitated toward him and literally attached themselves to him. The decision to hire him was made in that moment.
Playing with the children is an important part of the job, but Robert is also responsible for cleaning, restocking supplies, and sanitizing toys, chairs, and other surfaces, and organizing cubbies.
Here’s an excerpt from a report by The Arc’s job developer on his first day of work:
“Robert was immediately greeted by numerous teachers and children with hellos and handshakes, then he was given the name tag that all teachers wear pinned to their shirts. Robert was grinning from ear to ear. He was welcomed by Director of Staff Helen Coe and given his own mailbox. As we were saying our goodbyes at the end of his shift, I told him how proud I was of him . . . and I must admit, the smile on Robert’s face brought a lump to my throat. I am not one to cry, but I have never been as moved as I was today in a work environment.
“This first day was a long time in the making – almost two years – and involved the efforts of so many people. The end result – the happiness we saw on Robert’s face – was worth every second that was spent in getting to this day!”
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