Four ESCNJ students work at Monday Night Football game

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Four students with autism from the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ) enjoyed Monday Night Football in a whole new way.

Arthur Harris, Michael Ciaccio and Marcus Wilson from ESCNJ’s Pathway to Adult Living Program (PAL), and Jonathan Gomez from the Future Foundations Academy (FFA), had the opportunity to serve popcorn at the Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants NFL football game on Dec. 9 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia as part of their jobs with the non-profit organization Popcorn for the People.

Popcorn for the People is dedicated to creating meaningful employment for those with autism and developmental disabilities. Popcorn for the People’s goal is to combat the current 80% unemployment rate among individuals with autism, according to information provided by ESCNJ.

This employment opportunity was made possible through the Eagles Autism Foundation and Aramark, the Philadelphia Eagles food and beverage partner at Lincoln Financial Field, which teamed up with Popcorn for the People to help increase employment opportunities for individuals with autism.

ESCNJ and its programs have been involved with Popcorn for the People for four years. Prior, students have had the chance to serve popcorn at other sporting events at Rutgers University and local street fairs.

“Our students’ work at Rutgers University events have prepared them for a job of this size,” Ivelisse Reyes, one of ESCNJ’s job coaches, said in the statement, as the students patiently waited at the Popcorn for the People location in Piscataway for their transportation to the big game.

“I can see the difference in their confidence as we stand here today versus when they first started with Popcorn for the People,” Reyes said in the statement. “They are no longer nervous but more excited for this incredible opportunity.”

The Eagles provided the students and job coaches with transportation to and from the game. Four job coaches accompanied the students to provide support, if needed.

Lindsey Medeiros, another job coach, said it was an honor to have students representing ESCNJ at a nationally-televised professional game that the Eagles won, 23-17.

“This is what we’ve been preparing for,” she said in the statement. “I could barely believe it when I heard they would be working a professional sporting event. All of these students have worked so hard and this honor is very deserving.”

The PAL program is designed to ensure a successful transition to independent living for students ages 18-21. FFA provides specialized classroom and community-based instruction to students with autism.

“Popcorn for the People provides some of our students with their first paid jobs after completing high school and we cannot thank them enough for the support they have provided to us,” Raissa Prus, the supervisor of Community-based Instruction for ESCNJ, said in the statement.

For more information, visit www.escnj.us.