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December 20. 2012 8:41PM

Students celebrate skills earned at job-training program


Janine Leffler addresses her classmates and supporters during the INCOME Program graduation ceremony on Wednesday at The PLUS Co. in Nashua. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/Union Leader Correspondent)
NASHUA -- Living with various disabilities such as Down syndrome, Asperger's syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, a group of young adults are facing their challenges with new-found hope.

After completing a unique program that teaches individuals with disabilities how to pursue careers in office administration, seven area residents are prepared to find jobs of their own.

"I am ready, willing and able to do a good job," said Janine Leffler, a graduate of the INCOME program offered by the PLUS Company of Nashua.

Leffler joined six of her classmates on Wednesday for a special commencement ceremony recognizing them for their achievements. Each student completed an 18-week course and a 15-week internship at a local business, teaching them the skills necessary for real world employment.

"The graduates from the INCOME program are exceptional students. They are exceptional people," said Vince Kelly, program instructor. The class learned the importance of first impressions, how to set goals, ask questions, interview techniques, resume writing and teamwork, according to Kelly. They also were trained on how to file paperwork, scan and copy documents, answer telephones and deal with difficult customers. They were then asked to put their knowledge into practice while interning at different businesses, including More Than Wheels, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Gateways Community Services, Sadler Insurance, Dartmouth Hitchcock, Dyn and USI.

"We also receive benefits for being a part of this internship program," said Sherri Panaro, director of sales support for Anthem. "It is great to watch the development of each of them."

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, who serves on the board of director for The PLUS Co., told the graduates that they have great opportunities ahead of them. She also thanked the local businesses that allowed the students to intern at their companies.

"We love that this community comes together, even through challenges - and we all have them," she said.

For interns such as Jennifer Roy, who has Asperger's, the INCOME program sharpened her office skills and taught her important lessons about the workplace. Roy, who interned at More Than Wheels, was surprised to learn on Wednesday that a New Hampshire insurance company will be sending her a permanent job offer.

Another graduate, Michael Carr, is also receiving a job offer from the Pelham Public Library, according to Kelly.

Eric Retelle, a young man with Down syndrome, has been interning at Dyn in Manchester, but has since accepted a permanent job at the company.

"We want people to be successful here," said Chris Widner, director of culture and talent development for Dyn. He described employees like Retelle as assets for his business, saying their unique abilities are worth the investment. Members of the 2012 program class include: Michael Carr, Janine Leffler, Eric Retelle, Anna Dixon, Curt Levesque, Jennifer Roy and Shawn Sullivan.

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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at khoughton@newstote.com.



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