Marie Strazzulla is a 25-year-old who loves her job. Mostly because no two days are ever the same.
Some days find Marie in the Gateways: Access to Jewish Education office, stamping, filing, collating or her favorite task: shredding (“It’s heavy work but it’s fun.”)
Other days she’s at Gateways Sunday program, where she’s responsible for serving dozens of students their mid-morning snack. “I like the kids,” she says. “I know a lot of the teen volunteers from Camp Ramah.”
Like so many other young adults in their first real job, Marie is proud of the new skills she’s learning every day. And, because she has Down syndrome and lives in the Boston area, Marie was able to receive the kind of community support that both trained the Norwood resident and placed her in the job she now loves.
After high school, Marie enrolled in CHAI Works, a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service designed to give adults with disabilities the kind of grounding in real-life work settings needed for jobs in either volunteer or paid positions. Then they make the match, finding just the right person for the job.
Last summer, when Gateways approached CHAI Works to help them find someone to work in their Newton office, Marie was ready and the “shidduch” was quickly made. To help with the adjustment, her job coach came along the first couple of times.
These days, Marie takes care of the office tasks that used to pile up, those chores the staff was always too busy to get around to. And each Sunday the students know Marie will appear in their classroom with a cart laden with tantalizing snacks.
Marie’s presence has also had a positive impact on Gateways’ staff, reports Executive Director Arlene Remz. “What we didn’t realize in the beginning was that, in order to help Marie be successful, we needed to structure the work and be clear in our expectations, breaking things down step-by-step and making sure we were communicating well. It turned out that this is a skill that makes things better in all the work we do.”
In addition, she adds, “Marie’s success is a very real reminder of Gateways’ goals, the hopes and dreams for independence that we have for our students too.”
Indeed, things have gone so well in the office that, early last fall, Marie was asked to add Sunday program responsibilities to her schedule.
But, as much as Marie’s loves her job, another topic that never fails to elicit unbounded enthusiasm is “I Love Lucy.” It turns out that, not only does Marie own DVDs containing every episode of the 1950s hit series (the ones that make her laugh the loudest: Lucy’s grape-stomping, cupcake-manufacturing and candy-testing misadventures), but she’s also a storehouse of little-known Lucy trivia. A sampling: The exterior of the house used in the show was the star’s actual home, on Beverly Hills’ Lexington Street.
Surprisingly, Marie says her favorite part of her job isn’t serving snack to the children or even the shredding, but just spending time with the Gateways staff. “It’s seeing all you guys and feeling sort of comfortable,” she says with a shy smile. “Everyone here helps me a lot.”
To learn more about Gateways, call (617) 630-9010, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.jgateways.org. To learn more about CHAI Works, contact Doreen Cummings at (781) 693-5638 or email@example.com or visit www.jfcsboston.org.
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