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Jawonio’s Youth Internship Program – Opportunities for Learning

Jawonio Community Employment Services hosts a Youth Internship and Employment program to give young adults opportunities to work at Jawonio, and at businesses in the community, to develop their work skills, build confidence, and prepare for competitive employment. The opportunities this program provides also gives those young adults a chance to explore specific jobs in a field that may be of interest to them. This helps them set goals for pursuing further training or higher education. 

The Youth Internship and Employment program began as a pilot in 2015, and was part of the New York State Department of Labor initiative, along with community based agencies to better prepare young adults with special needs for the transition from high school and into higher education and employment. ACCES-VR is our partner and approached us to start the pilot, which in the first year, included 13 students. They completed a 25 hour work readiness training course after school, towards the end of their school year. As we get to know the students, we work with them to secure a placement that they have an interest in and that is nearby. Students hired by Jawonio are paid up to 160 hours minimum wage for the summer. This not only provides them with new skills, but it builds confidence, and also provides them with paid work experience that they can highlight on their resume, along with two professional references from their placement--putting them in an excellent position when they seek employment in the future. 

As an employee of Jawonio, students go through the entire new-hire screening process, which also teaches them about the process of how companies bring on new employees. In that first year, 5 students were placed at Jawonio in different areas in Rockland, and 8 were placed in Westchester. The program has continued since the pilot, and has been tremendously successful.  In three years, 35 businesses have participated such as; Walgreens, the Verizon Store in Pearl River, Camp Bow Wow, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Camp in the Woods, Staples, Organic Recycling, Food Fair, Good Samaritan Hospital, Suffern Library, Head Start, and G. Gambardella & Son, who this year received the National Disability Employment Awareness Month Award. The program grew to 23 students in its second year and in 2018, ballooned to 94 students. Originally the pilot was designed for High School students but it can also be offered to adults. It has broadened the scope of participants, now including adults who have been out of the work space for a long period of time. Work Readiness helps give individuals the confidence to get back into the workforce.


Kerri Kearney was one of our youth interns who joined our New City Day Habilitation team this past summer.  She began her experience by attending the Work Readiness course at Suffern High School, taught by Susan Mackay. At first, Kerri was unsure of where she might want to work. She knew that she liked babysitting, so she thought perhaps working with children might be of interest. Susan worked with her and the other students to broaden their thoughts about their interests. In Kerri’s case, she related her experience of helping her grandmother after she had a stroke. Reflecting on this experience helped her realize that she may want to work with older adults. When she met with our Jawonio staff to discuss placement, the New City Day Habilitation Program seemed like the perfect fit: “The process of identifying their strengths and interests is done methodically and slowly so that they reach the best, most appropriate placement for them as an individual,” says Katherine Keating, Job Developer who oversees the Youth Internship Program. In Kerri’s case the match was an excellent fit!

Kerri assisted the staff with the daily activities of the program, played games, set up craft activities, accompanied participants on community outings such as bowling and the movies, helped with the daily routine such as lunch and snacks, and assisted with \ other special activities. She interned for six weeks, from the end of June through the second week in August, and bonded with the program participants: “What I liked most was helping the people,” said Kerri on her last day. The program celebrated with cake, and thanked her for her help during the 2018 summer. Kerry returned to Suffern High School for her senior year in the fall, and is hoping to return to Jawonio in the future.

Kerri’s mom, Michelle, saw how participating in the internship program benefited Kerri: “Kerri truly enjoyed working and learning from everyone in Day Habilitation program. This internship explored a new career path for her. Not only did Kerri gain valuable work experience, she learned new skills that she would not have learned in a classroom. Kerri has become more independent and more confident. It was an amazing opportunity for Kerri and a very rewarding experience for her.”

“The goal of this program is about helping students understand that it is not as daunting as it may seem to prepare for the work world. When Kerri came into her internship, not only did she impress everyone she came into contact with, she impressed herself as she realized her abilities,” says Susan Mackay, Job Developer.

The New City Day Habilitation program provides integrated community activities, recreational and socialization activities for adults with intellectual disabilities.  The program serves 30 people, Monday through Friday.

Caroline Alcocer, Job Developer, oversees the Youth Internship Program in Yonkers and says, “The best part of this program is working with employers who really get why it is a good thing not only for the student, but for their business as well.”

Caroline has seen many successful interns from the program, including Eric Lopez, who interned this year at G. Gambardella & Son, an automotive shop. The staff and leadership of the business were so supportive and created an environment in which Eric not only gained practical work skills, but also gained soft skills, like interacting professionally with the other staff. “He was very shy at first, and didn’t really talk or ask questions, even when he had them. But as time went on and his supervisor and the other employees interacted with him, taught him about the business and their expectations, he became more comfortable. “From day one when he didn’t really make eye contact, to the final days of his placement when he walked in, waved and greeted the other employees enthusiastically by name, was really great to see,” said Caroline. This year, Eric was honored with the National Disability Employment Awareness Month award.
He’s pictured here with Jill Warner, Jawonio CEO, Caroline Alcocer, Job Developer and David Gambardella of G. Gambardella & Son.

Eric Lopez with NDEAM Award for his work at G. Gambardella

Xavier Lucas was another successful intern who worked at the Mount Vernon Police Department. He knew he was interested in a career in criminal justice, and at the time of his internship, he was a freshman at Mercy College. Through the Work Readiness course, his interest in criminal justice was clear. In High School, he participated in the Youth Marine Corps. The placement at the Mount Vernon Police Department seemed like an excellent fit. When he first started, they assigned him to the department that handles parking tickets. They saw his potential for leadership and invited him to work with the Youth Cadets in their summer program. Part of this program includes shadowing police officers, and through that, Xavier learned about collecting evidence, how to conduct fingerprinting, and much more. The program also involved having motivational speakers talk to the Cadets and mentor them, to share how they too became successful. One of the very special motivational events for Cadets was the field trip to NYC to visit the, “Good Morning America Show” and meet with Michael Strayhan.

Xavier Lucas with Youth Cadets and Michael Strayhan

“The best part of this work is seeing the interns develop their self-confidence to then go out on their own. Giving these kids the chance to be exposed to different things, different jobs and opportunities that open up their minds to new possibilities is so rewarding,” says Caroline.

For more information or to refer someone to the Youth Internship Program visit our website at  or contact Katherine Keating, Job Developer at 845.708.2000 ext. 2398 or via email at: .

About us

We provide care for over 10,000 people with special needs each year.

Our mission

Jawonio is a registered 501c3 organization and the premier provider of lifespan services in the Hudson Valley of New York State for individuals with developmental disabilities, behavioral health challenges, and chronic medical conditions. 

Jawonio is dedicated to advancing the independence, well-being, and equality of people with disabilities and special needs.