We continue our observance of Jewish Disability Awareness Month with an interview with a remarkable young man, Eric Niemi. I met Eric at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), where he just started a new job in the office. Eric is a successful graduate of Jewish Vocational Services Transitions to Work program, which prepares young people with disabilities for productive jobs through classes, internships and mentoring. I asked Eric about his experience in the program and what he likes to do when he’s not working.

created at: 2013-02-25You’ve started a new job at CJP. Tell me what you’re most looking forward to about your new work.

I think the thing I’m looking forward to the most is the wonderful people here. I’ve met all sorts of helpful people just in these first few weeks.

You also studied in The Threshold Program at Lesley University. How did you like that program, and what did you learn there?

I learned great independent living skills. I lived in a dorm with other people. There was always someone around to go to for guidance, but I had my own room. It was just like having an apartment. The program gave me job skills and at the end I received a certificate for early childhood education.

Before this, you worked at both a daycare and a children’s center. What’s your favorite part about working with young children?

I love the smiles that light up the room when you make them happy. I really like working with preschoolers because the world is so new to them. I was an assistant teacher, so I would do my own lesson plans. I’d read to the children and set up snacks and supervise them. The age group I worked with was 3- to 5-year-olds, so they are technically old enough for kindergarten.

Finally, what do you like to do when you’re not working?

I like using the computer and going online. I enjoy Gaia Online, which is a social networking site. I also like watching animé and reading manga (Japanese comic books).

Learn more about Jewish Disability Awareness Month.