An update on CareerAbility, by Danielle Chiaraluce, Executive Director

CareerAbility was founded to meet a vital element of Chapel Haven’s mission: meaningful employment for its clients. We believe meaningful employment is predicated upon an individual’s abilities and interests and that employment placements should contribute to the individual’s quality of life and allow each individual to earn a competitive wage for their work.

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In CareerAbility, we use a process of discovery to identify placements that provide individuals with both opportunity and choice as they enter the world of employment. Historically, traditional employment models for those with developmental/social disabilities did not focus on providing meaningful employment. Typically, this population was considered “served” when placed in jobs that could not veritably be considered to be “competitive employment” or were often not jobs sought after by neurotypical peers. This resulted in poor retention rates. Last program year, 100% of clients placed by CareerAbility met their 90-day retention period, and we are still tracking our 180 day and 365 day job retention outcomes.

Unique assessment is first step

Abby P. at Massaro Community Farm, Woodbridge

Rose is enjoying her job at Home Depot North Haven, in the paint department

For clients who seek employment as their ultimate goal, we offer enhanced employment placement services. Facilitated Discovery is provided to boost ultimate success in competitive employment. During these experiences, clients are provided with on/offsite career transition services to help them better navigate and succeed in competitive employment. Clients have the option to receive continuous job-monitoring throughout the duration of their employment.
Identifying in-demand careers and increasing the breadth of career pathways helps us ensure that CareerAbility offers significant options for its clients. These practices build upon each other to provide a variety of work experiences that create effective Pathways to Employment.

CareerAbility is allocated into two key areas, Vocational Opportunities and Employment Services. In Vocational Opportunities, we provide a foundation of key skills that improve client success in career pathway training within certain popular career tracks and community based work experiences. This grounding in basic industry-specific training and employment skills training increases the likelihood clients will secure a future job placement, advancement, and retention. Within Employment Services, each placement is individualized and based upon a client’s preferences and needs. In both divisions, staff with multiple areas of expertise work as a trans-disciplinary team to provide optimal support toward each client’s long-term success. To further improve outcomes, CareerAbility captures ongoing quantitative and qualitative data to intentionally inform and refine its client advisement and support features.

Successes to date

Kyle at Garden Catering

To date, CareerAbility’s model has already helped many clients achieve meaningful employment. Prior to COVID, 84% of adults referred to CareerAbility (DD and ASD) were receiving job skill development. In PY 18-19 there were 56 new clients that engaged in 83 job skill development experiences (some received more than 1 opportunity). In PY 18-19 alone, of these 56 new clients, CareerAbility placed a total of 25 adults into competitive employment (out of a total 28 adults eligible and seeking employment; essentially placing 89% of its ASD and DD population). This far exceeds the national average where approximately 18% of the DD population and 19.2% of the ASD population desiring to work are competitively employed.

As CareerAbility evolves, it will include a breadth of choice to support clients in broadening their exploration and employment opportunities. This will be reflected in our intentional employer partnerships across 16 industry career clusters. As CareerAbility pioneers its mission, measuring growth and effectiveness will be key to inform refinement of the model.

During the pandemic, over 130+ CareerAbility clients who were working, volunteering, or engaged in employment services or work-based learning were affected by employer closures due to the pandemic. Since July, 95% of our work sites re-opened. Presently, our students and clients continue to engage in community-based experiences, paid employment, and employment services. Some employers are temporarily closed or closed for the duration of the year, causing limited training, volunteer, or employment opportunities. In response, we have developed community based assessment sites, virtual and in person pre-vocational curriculum, internships, and training programs.

Nate enjoys working at Books & Company

This includes our PAVE (Partnership for Achieving Vocational Experience) program, new Retail Sales and Central Sterile Supply Training programs, work-based learning experiences, and a variety of facilitated discovery and employment experiences at sites such as Chapel Haven’s café, Massaro Farms, Home Depot, Racebrook Country Club, Broadbridge Automotive, Sticky Paws, UHaul, FYE, and Garden Catering.

We are committed to keeping clients and students actively engaged during these uncertain times. Our team continues to train on the best practices for Employment First and Customized Employment. We offer a robust catalog filled with virtual and in-person offerings. Our placement team reaches out daily to employers to build and retain relationships with key partners. We are working hard to cultivate new opportunities for our students and clients, and are focused on the future even when faced with concerns related to the pandemic or labor market.

Contact us

If you are an employer (or know of one) and are interested in partnering with CareerAbility, please email Danielle Chiaraluce at and she will be in touch!