Suburban academy prepares adults with disabilities for their dream jobs

A first of its kind career academy in the western suburbs is training individuals who are often forgotten in the workforce. Nearly two-thirds of adults with disabilities are unemployed, but they want to work.

Aspire Career Academy in Hillside is helping them land the job of their dreams. From housekeeping to hosting, the academy is opening doors and providing meaningful job opportunities for exceptional individuals.

Liam Kirstein is a graduate of the program, currently working in the warehouse for Canteen Refreshments.

"I learned that you have to be quick and on your feet a lot," Kirstein said.

He is one of three Aspire graduates working for the warehouse that supplies beverages to businesses in the Chicago area.

"Everybody has something to contribute and I think we lose sight of that sometimes," said Lori Pierson, a District Operations Manager for Canteen.

The academy has a range of career simulations from culinary, retail, distribution, hospitality, fitness, rehabilitation, office support and information technology. The academy works one-on-one with students, who have intellectual disabilities like Down Syndrome and autism, to tailor a career path that meets their abilities.

"We provide assessments which walk people through, what are your interests, what are your skills and what kinds of thing would you like to do professionally, and then we link that with the training modules," said Aspire Careers Vice President Herbert Washington.

The cost of the program is based on family income. Students can start the program as early as 18 years of age, and there's no age limit.

"The alternative is not to be employed, it's to sit at home and maybe dream about a job and this makes that dream a reality. This helps people to find meaningful employment and purpose to their life," Washington said.

Over 90 percent of the career academy graduates are currently employed.

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