Blake on the job

A new PAVE program at Whelen Engineering in Chester, CT, established by Chapel Haven’s new Center for Employment and Service Opportunities (CESO), is answering a national dilemma – the issue of unemployment – and underemployment – for adults with disabilities.

Each week, students from Chapel Haven’s Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition (ASAT) program report to work at Whelen, where they are interning with staff support in several company departments. Chapel Haven supplies a work-based learning specialist/special education teacher to support the participant and workplace mentors, with the goal of fading out once job skills are mastered, allowing participants to utilize natural supports in the work environment. The departments that students can consider at Whelen include: Aviation Manufacturing, Product Assembly, Sales, and Order Entry.

“This partnership is absolutely remarkable,” Chapel Haven President Michael Storz told CEO George Whelen during an April 3 ceremony at the Chester, CT company. “You have taken the time to truly identify the strengths of our individuals, and you have recognized how creative they are.”

Faced with daunting national statistics that 90% of adults with autism spectrum disorders either have no job, or not enough work, Storz said innovative programs like Chapel Haven’s PAVE sites are making a difference in helping adults become job ready.

President Michael Storz presents “Employer Spotlight” award to Whelen CEO George Whelen

During the event, Storz and CESO presented Whelen Engineering Company, Inc. of Chester, CT with Chapel Haven’s new Employer Spotlight award, for opening their doors to the adults of Chapel Haven Schleifer Center.

The ceremony took place against the backdrop of April as Autism Awareness Month.

“I hope we can continue to support this program,” George said upon receiving the award. “It’s a well thought out, innovative idea. The Chapel Haven team has been phenomenal to work with.”

Liam Bishop is one of the students from ASAT who is taking part in the PAVE program at Whelen. He works in the order entry department and, according to Eric Maurice, Inside Sales Manager at Whelen, Liam has already done some significant projects independently, including fixing a major glitch in the company’s website.

“I remember a few months ago, I stood in this very same room and met three fine young gentlemen from Chapel Haven,” Eric recalled. “It was my goal to figure out how I can make an impact on them. And the reality is, they’ve made an impact on me.”

Eric said Liam’s amazing computer skills have made him a natural on several company projects, including the hours it took him to update and fix the website issue.

“He did a great job,” Eric said, noting that once Liam understood the project, he was able to work independently. “Needless to say, our website is up and running and we have some very happy distributors.”

Liam loves working at Whelen

For his part, Liam loves it. “Everybody here is super friendly,” Liam said as he sat in his office cubicle, demonstrating his skills with data entry, spreadsheets and google docs as his proud parents looked on. “We have a really good rapport.”

This is Chapel Haven’s second PAVE site. Chapel Haven has, for several years, enjoyed a PAVE program at Yale-New Haven Hospital that continues.

Ellen Keane, whose son, Blake, is part of Chapel Haven’s ASAT program, praised the employees at Whelen for taking the time to train and help the students along.

“You are setting the bar. There is a yawning need in the United States that is unmet,” she said. “The exposure you’re giving our children is invaluable.”

Ellen, who has lectured on the issue of unemployment for adults with disabilities, noted that after high school, many families face the same issue hers faced. “Special education ends at age 21 and our students are sent out into the world with no real opportunities. Underemployment is a tragedy and a shame,” she said.

Parent Ellen Keane feels the PAVE partnership is a national model

With programs like PAVE, “the world is our classroom,” she said.

Blake helps assemble lights. He builds each one from start to finish and then tests them to be sure they are in good order. “He is very precise,” his supervisor said. “Nothing gets by him.”

Whelen Engineering, Inc. was founded in 1952 by George W. Whelen, in his garage in Deep River, CT. Whelen Engineering is now a global leader in the emergency warning industry, designing and manufacturing reliable and powerful warning lights, white illumination lighting, sirens, controllers, and high-powered warning systems for Automotive, Aviation, and Mass Notification industries worldwide. Whelen has the largest design staff in the industry and over 1,500 employees.

This program was created in partnership with ASAT and the Center for Employment Services and Opportunities. Gina Apicella, Director of ASAT, helped Chapel Haven establish the partnership at Whelen.

“This program addresses a critical need,” she said. “Adults with autism spectrum disorder continue to face an employment crisis. Whelen is committed to encouraging a workplace of inclusion and highlighting individual talents.”

During the honoring event at Whelen, Storz also noted that CESO is already succeeding at an early stage in finding job and volunteer opportunities for many Chapel Haven adults.

“In a relatively short period of time, CESO has placed 90 individuals from Chapel Haven in jobs or volunteering opportunities,” Storz said. “Sixty-percent of those adults are still  maintaining” employment after several months on the job, an amazing statistic considering that nationally, the average rate is about 16%.

Danielle Chiaraluce and Gina Apicella welcomed everyone to the honoring event.

Danielle Chiaraluce, Executive Director of the CESO, “we are proud to have Whelen Engineering as a partner. We see the abilities of the adults we work with at CESO as a critical and untapped part of an employer’s talent pool. They are creative, innovative, and loyal associates who bring energy, enthusiasm and diverse perspective to the workplace which benefits the entire company and the community.” The Center for Employment Services and Opportunities (CESO) is dedicated to a client-centered, individualized approach to job procurement and career development for individuals with developmental and social disabilities.

About Chapel Haven Schleifer Center:
Founded in 1972 in a house on Chapel Street, New Haven, CT, Chapel Haven Schleifer Center is an award-winning transitional living program and approved private special education school with a mission of teaching adults with cognitive disabilities and social disabilities to live independent and productive lives. Chapel Haven has grown to serve more than 250 adults (18 years of age and older) in the residence and the community with three distinct programs; REACH, Asperger’s Syndrome Adult Transition (ASAT), and Chapel Haven West (Tucson, AZ). The agency is underway with a $41.5 million campus expansion. Read more at