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Monmouth officials tout ‘Growth Through Opportunity’ program

The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office is the anchor for a pilot program among The Arc of New Jersey, The Arc of the United States and local police departments that started in October.

Five Monmouth County law enforcement agencies are providing individuals who have special needs with an opportunity to serve as interns, called cadets, and to learn valuable job skills and contribute to the diversity and inclusivity of the agencies, Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced.

The collaboration, dubbed Growth Through Opportunity (GTO), is a 16-week program, according to a press release from the prosecutor.

“We are excited to be the first county in New Jersey to pilot this program, which is being
supported by grants from The Arc of the United States and The Arc of New Jersey,” Gramiccioni said.

“This program has huge potential for providing important job skills and a lifeline for our local citizens who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. It also provides law enforcement agencies with an opportunity to learn from the cadets and to gain perspective on interacting with persons who have intellectual and developmental disabilities every day, in non-emergency situations,” he said.

The GTO cadet program was founded by retired law enforcement officer Travis Akins, who launched the program in November 2014 with the Roanoke, Va., Police Department, according to the press release.

Akins, whose son became the first cadet, is a passionate crusader and is working to spread his GTO program to other law enforcement agencies throughout the country, according to the press release.

The program is designed to provide adults of all ages who have intellectual or developmental disabilities an opportunity to gain job skills and social experience in a professional setting.

“The end goal is that the experiences the cadets have in our workplaces will translate into their ability to obtain employment after they graduate from this program,” Akins said.

GTO partners with community first responders to give the participants and the first responders a better understanding of each other, resulting in positive interactions in real-life situations, according to the press release.

Adult participants spend 16 weeks volunteering at a law enforcement agency, receiving career and life skills training. Each GTO cadet is given a uniform and may work at the department for up to 12 hours per week. Officers work with each candidate and their family to hone the volunteer experience specifically for their interests and goals, and cadets participate in the training program with the goal of transitioning into paid employment upon graduation, according to the press release.

Five law enforcement agencies volunteered to host GTO cadets for 16 weeks starting in October – the Eatontown, Holmdel, Marlboro and Red Bank police departments, and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. Monmouth County is the first GTO cadets site in New Jersey.

“We are proud the prosecutor’s office and the Eatontown, Holmdel, Marlboro and Red Bank police departments volunteered to pilot this program in New Jersey. This is a program that delivers the promise of a better future for our citizens challenged with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone said.

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