Public advocate Letitia James heard about Human First's programming.
Public Advocate Letitia James visited Astoria nonprofit Human First last week, learning more about the group’s range of programming and services for New York City’s developmentally disabled communities living in traditionally under-served areas.
The visit focused on the organization’s Transition to Employment program, which aims to place high-functioning individuals in various positions, tailoring each job or volunteer opportunity to the talents and strengths of the potential employee and the needs of the employer.
As part of the program, potential employees go through job training, and speak with advisors up to four times a week to monitor their experiences and growth.
Lenny Moise, a customized employment specialist who heads the program, said that 70-90 people were currently waiting for placement after having undergone the training program.
In addition to the Astoria location, Human First provides programming at a Long Island location and its Brooklyn office in Canarsie.
“We know that everyone has strengths in some areas, and we try to focus on those strengths,” said Human First CEO Wafa Abboud. “Some people can work in Barnes and Noble because they know books more than anyone. Some peoples’ accounting skills are amazing.”
Moise said the aim of the program was to transition workers from hands-on training and supervision to complete independence in the workforce.
“We want this individual to transition from having a job coach and being independent, to being able to go to work independently on a day-to-day basis like we all do,” he said.
Abboud and Moise said that while federal subsidies were available to companies that employed developmentally disabled individuals, more state and local tax credits could be a huge help in implementing more of the community into the work force.
“There are a lot of states that have moved towards these subsidies a long time ago, so we’re kind of catching up with other states,” said Abboud. “New York was more involved with maintaining services [for the developmentally disabled], and supporting them to live a good life.
“Employment was not a major part of what the state was focused on,” she continued. “It’s important. Percentage-wise, there are many people who are capable of working, but aren’t. If we could push that through, it would be great.”
One member of the program, Anthony Tricomi, discussed his experience working at Gamestop, a position secured through the program. He said the job had enabled him to save up for a new PS4 Playstation.
With Gamestop only a part-time position, James suggested Tricomi work at her Manhattan office a couple days a week, setting up an interview for next Friday.
“Just say you know Tish James,” she said as an interview tip.
Abboud said that while it was difficult to secure opportunities like these, once placement had been made, program members’ lives were tremendously changed.
“It is very difficult and very challenging when the unemployment rate is high, because we are competing with the public,” she said. “But you have to see the change. They become more productive [once they’re hired]. We see how it changes their life.”