Three days a week STAR client, and New Canaan resident Austin Star, 22, gets himself to work at New Canaan Music, and the New Canaan Playhouse theater.
Austin is a young adult on the autism spectrum who recently graduated from the Maplebrook School in New York upon graduating from the New Canaan public school system.
Austin joined the STAR, Inc., Lighting the Way High School Transition Program to get assistance with job placement and support. He found a supportive, nurturing environment that promotes inclusion and community-based activities, the agency said in a press release. Through STAR’s offering of engaging community-based recreation and educational classes, he is developing age-appropriate actionable life skills.
Austin attends the STAR New Canaan day program at 111 Elm Street, where he goes five days a week mixing work, recreational classes or volunteer activities, to have lunch and socialize with other STAR clients who are his peers and new friends.
Through STAR’s Job Development program, Austin found his first job and works at New Canaan Music a few days a week, helping with shipment deliveries and store organization.
“Austin helps lighten our load,” says Williams owner of New Canaan Music, said. “He saves us a lot of time in doing tasks that allow us to focus on other areas. He works well with our staff and has a great sense of humor —we look forward to his jokes.”
Austin is New Canaan Music’s first employee with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to a release from STAR.
“We have had a good, positive experience working with Austin, and his support staff from STAR.” New Canaan Music Store Manager Jim O’Neill said.
“I like my job,” Austin said. “It’s a good job, and no one says anything mean when I screw up. I’m happy to have a nice place to work and I like earning a paycheck.”
STAR has also found a position for Austin at the New Canaan Playhouse, where he takes tickets.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see first-hand the support and enthusiasm from the community and our business partners,” said Martha Spiegel, the job developer at STAR who helped Austin obtain his first job. “Together with our community business partners, we are able to place people with I/DD in productive and paying jobs while creating win-win-win scenarios. Our average tenure of people placed in jobs is now over 9.5 years. That says it all.”
Joe Anastasi, a STAR job coach, and Channyra Than, the New Canaan office employment manager, work closely with Austin to help him meet his goals and succeed.
With his paychecks Austin helps contribute to the cost of living independently in his own apartment in New Canaan. With help from his family, Austin is learning to live independently. He is encouraged to write his own rent check each month, do his own laundry, go shopping for groceries and make lunch each day.
“In this positive environment, he is growing and blossoming. He feels more confident to take the next steps in life,” says his Mother Diane Ballarino-Star, “Austin is happy and positive. He feels more confident that he can do whatever he puts his mind to now. Austin’s interpersonal and communication skills have improved since he has been with the STAR program and he feels 100% supported here.”
Austin also handles all of his own transportation needs through the GetAbout ride service in New Canaan.
STAR’s customized employment program for people with disabilities leads the state in job placements and hours worked. New Canaan office manager Channyra Than was recently hired to head this office and assist with the high school transition program to help participants secure meaningful employment. She also develops continued learning and volunteer experiences to enhance life skills that promote independence, build confidence and create new friendships.
“My time at STAR has been a truly rewarding experience,” Than said. “STAR really cares about the clients, the employees and the community. The ‘can do’ attitude is contagious and everyone is always willing to help. As an employment manager, I work collaboratively as part of a team with the staff, clients and their parents on a daily basis to ensure the clients are safe, active and meeting their goals while focusing on community engagement, inclusion and personal growth.”