As Bill Strazzullo and Lisa Carriere prepared to celebrate the 2017 class of Job Camp graduates, they take a moment and flashback to the humble beginnings of what has become one of NuPath’s most successful employment programs.
“Do you remember when we used to hold our classes in a little room and graduation was just the graduates and someone had to rush out to get decorations and a cake?” Carriere jokes to Strazzullo, regarding their first graduating class.
He chuckles, looking around the well-decorated Crowne Plaza Hotel ballroom filled with past and present Job Camp graduates, their peers and family members, dozens of NuPath staff and elected local officials.
With a smirk, he replies, “Yes…but this is a little better.”
Talk about an understatement.
Five years after he began to develop the program that would evolve into Job Camp, over 60 people were on hand to celebrate the 2017 class of Job Camp graduates. The class has come a long way from its humble beginnings and Strazzullo says it’s thanks to the dedication from NuPath’s leadership team.
“Dan (Harrison) and his executive team have given me and the employment team the creative license to develop and refine the program…and it keeps getting better every year.” he said.
Strazzullo, who runs the class every Friday for two hours from October to June, teaches men and women various skills they can use to obtain, and retain, community employment.
Through mock interviews, resume preparation and classes on professional conduct, Strazzullo and Employment Coordinator Anthony Shaw prepare the class for the rigors and competition of the working world.
“Bill and Tony are the perfect pair for Job Camp,” said Bryan Ellsworth, one of Tony’s colleagues. “The men and women have a great admiration and respect for the time, effort and energy they put into each class.”
Strazzullo, an accomplished financial consultant, has been at the forefront of volunteer work for over 25 years and says nothing compares to the profound impact it has on him personally. “Through all the volunteer work that I’ve done, nothing has touched me more on a personal level than the work we’ve been doing here at NuPath,” he said.
It also had a significant impact on the 2017 graduates, including Tammy Eckert. “I wanted to build more confidence and challenge myself,” she told the audience. “I advocated to join Job Camp after hearing about how my peers completely changed their lives going through the class.”
Another 2017 graduate, James McDonough, had some reservations when Carriere initially encouraged him to join the class. “I was non-committal in my answers when Lisa first asked me,” he said. “I eventually decided to join because I wanted to better myself.”
In a speech to the audience, Ellsworth explained it is the motivation and drive of these Job Camp graduates that have, and continue to make, Job Camp what it is today.
“Over the past eight months, these 13 graduates…have committed themselves to achieving something greater, trying their best to learn and obtain the skills needed to not only gain community employment, but to build the foundation for a long-lasting career,” he said. “Without your energy, determination, perseverance and drive, we would not be able to help you succeed.”
Strazzullo stressed that this is not just any ordinary graduation, but rather a giant step forward to end the prevailing stigma regarding men and women with developmental disabilities.
“This is a really important day…for the graduates, their families and friends and the organization,” he said. “Job Camp is meant to reverse the isolation, marginalization and segregation regarding men and women with developmental disabilities…and to get them out where they belong: in the community.”
Since the beginning of the class, over 90% of graduates have found meaningful employment in the community; a number that Brett Reily, NuPath’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, explains is an example of the organization’s mission in action.
“Every time one of the men and women we support finds a job in the community, they take a giant step in making their lives happier, healthier and more fulfilling,” he said. “In turn, the community benefits from the unique set of skills and talent each person brings to the table.”
As the 13 graduates walked up to receive their diplomas, there were beaming smiles, hugs from their peers and family members and even a few tears of joy. It’s a sight that Harrison, NuPath’s President and CEO, believes is a just reward for the work that the class and Job Camp staff has put in over the years.
“As the old saying goes, it takes a village…and with Job Camp, there’s so many components to make this program work,” he said.
Harrison added, “We want to get as many men and women we support community employment as we can. Thanks to the dedication of Bill, our great employment team and the men and women who participate in the class, we’ve turned what was a dream five years ago into a tangible and evolving reality.”
As Ellsworth concluded the ceremony, he left the graduates with some words of wisdom as they take the next step in their journey.
“I challenge you to use this experience as a giant leap towards your future. Be confident and remember that you have the tools to succeed in your chosen career path.”
“Strive that this day…is the beginning of something great.”