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TPP: Creating opportunities
Program teaches special needs grads skills for workplace
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Safeway employee Ramon Rodriguez completes his daily tasks by pushing carts. Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with autism, has been working as a Safeway bagboy for about three years and enjoys every minute of it. - photo by NANCY ANGEL / The Journal

In today’s economy it can be tough for a young high school graduate to find work — especially if they are saddled with a learning disability or have special needs. In many cases these students will simply turn 18 and begin collecting Supplemental Security Income, also known as SSI.

Turlock High School alumnus Tyler Arnold has been an employee at Taco Bell for about nine months thanks to the Transitional Partnership Program at THS. Through the TPP program, students with special needs — like Arnold who was diagnosed with autism — are given the skills to lead productive and independent lives.

“I enjoy going to work,” said Arnold.  “My coworkers and bosses are helpful and treat me like everyone else.”

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people.  It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.  Some people with autism share certain difficulties, but the way each person is affected varies.

According to THS job coach and developer Kathy Smith, the Transitional Partnership Program’s ultimate goal is to produce contributing members of society.

“Our goal is to help our students work on their strengths and understand their weaknesses,” said Smith.  “We are giving these kids a chance and we are making sure we give them the tools to make themselves successful."

As more adults with autism are entering the workforce than ever before, the issues involving autistic people and the workplace are being redefined to benefit both employees and employers.

TPP graduate Ramon Rodriguez has been working as a Safeway bagboy for about three years and he said he enjoys his job every single day.

“Safeway is like a second home to me,” said Rodriguez.  “I work five days a week pushing carts, keeping the aisles clean, and help other cashiers bag groceries."

Not only does Rodriguez fulfill his daily duties, he is caring and compassionate with his coworkers in times of need.

“Ramon has gone above and beyond to help out one of our employees, Robin, who is currently battling stage 4 cancer,” said Safeway Store Manager Olivia Arambula.  “He helps her pick up boxes, asks her how she’s feeling every day, and bags her groceries when she needs help.  He takes really good care of her.”

Arambula said that he is focused and completes his daily tasks with no difficulty.

“He’s very focused on detail and is good at communicating with the other employees,” said Arambula.  “He always does a good job, comes with a great attitude to work, and is very reliable.  I couldn’t ask for more.”