Kids look forward to going to the movies or to playgrounds.
Hospitals? Not so much.
That’s where Alex Cohen comes in.
Cohen, 32, is a family navigator at Boston Children’s Hospital. The Allston resident offers a warm greeting and answers questions when patients arrive. He’s usually stationed close to the hospital’s main entrance, ready with stickers for kids and a hearty hello for parents. He has one rule: Every kid who walks through the door gets a compliment.
“I find something nice to say to each patient. It makes them feel comfortable. Maybe it’s their sneakers or their hat. It takes away their nervousness,” he explains. He often walks overwhelmed families to appointments in the far reaches of the hospital.
This isn’t easy—the large hospital is difficult to navigate, even for full-time employees. Cohen uses a detailed spreadsheet that lists every department and where to find it. He also studies up after work, walking the halls to find the most efficient routes to key areas.
Transitions to Work is a unique employment program with two main goals. The first is to provide adults who have a range of disabilities with the skills and training needed to compete for high-demand job openings, which includes on-site mentorship and job training in the 10-week program. The second goal is to change business culture through its employer engagement component, by promoting the training, mentoring and hiring of people with disabilities in a variety of positions and industries. Transitions to Work has over 75 employer partners, including organizations like NewBridge on the Charles, Boston Children’s Museum, Primark, Whole Foods, Prime Motor Group, Panera, SoulCycle and New England Aquarium. The program’s placement rate for competitive employment is 73 percent.
Transitions serves an essential purpose: Nearly 20 percent of Americans have a disability, and 70 percent are unemployed. It provides gratifying, dignified employment for disabled adults like Cohen, who has Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD).
“It offered support that I didn’t find at other jobs. I could ask questions. It helped me advocate for myself. If you feel nervous or anxious, you can tell people. It prepared me really well,” he says.
After training at Children’s, he received a formal job offer.
“Now, as an employee, I feel so appreciated and happy. We work hard, but we joke around,” he says.
And, in this role, joking is essential.
“I want patients to feel as comfortable as possible. They’re sick and not feeling well, so I really try to brighten up their day,” Cohen says. “I’m even trying to learn Spanish and Arabic, because so many patients speak those languages.”
Cohen used to be a summer counselor at Camp Ramah in Palmer. He likely won’t return this summer, he says, because he hopes to remain in his Children’s role long-term. It’s a fit for him, he says, after years spent as a counselor. He gets to interact with kids and help people along the way.
“I’m a people person,” he says. “This job was my No. 1 choice. I love being at Children’s, and I consider it the best hospital. They do great things for kids, whether it’s artists singing to patients, musical stairs that make noise when kids walk on them or terrific artwork. It takes kids’ minds off of going to their appointments.”
The admiration is mutual.
“Alex is smart, warm, friendly—he’s a well-rounded person. He’s the ideal person for customer service. He has amazing skills, and he’s just the kind of person we need,” says his manager, Paul Campbell. “He’s a good person.”