Via Hartford Courant: At Ädelbrook’s Bark-ery and Recently Expanded Transitional Academies, Students Find Support and Skills for Life

Via Hartford Courant: At Ädelbrook’s Bark-ery and Recently Expanded Transitional Academies, Students Find Support and Skills for Life

Read the story below, via Hartford Courant:

At Ädelbrook’s Bark-ery, students don’t just learn how to bake dog treats — they get hands on work experience in a safe and fun environment that prepares them for employment and life out in the community.

Ädelbrook was founded in Cromwell in 1915 and serves 300 children and young adults who are on the autism spectrum or have other behavioral or health challenges. The transitional academies and the Bark-ery, just off Middletown’s Main Street, teach young adults who have finished high school the life skills they need to hold down a job and live independently.

“We started this program because kids with autism have a very high rate of unemployment,” Ädelbrook Director Alyssa Goduti said. “Nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never had a paying job.”

By working at the Bark-ery, Goduti said, students learn valuable skills that make them marketable with future employers and comfortable in a workplace. At the Bark-ery, students do everything from baking the dog treats to setting up the store’s displays. They also run the Barkey’s kiosk at Manchester’s Buckland Hills Mall and sell goods at local farmer’s markets.

“I am very grateful for these opportunities,” 19-year-old West Hartford resident Ricky Semprit Jr. said. “I love being busy. Sitting around doesn’t feel right to me.”

For Semprit, working at the Bark-ery taught him the skills he takes to his other jobs at Perk on Main and Walgreens.

“We put a lot of heart and soul into the treats,” Semprit said. “Hands on experience is truly a gift.”

Goduti said that holding down steady employment can be challenging for young adults on the autism spectrum who might have trouble thriving in a work environment that is not tailored to their needs.

“Kids with autism tend to have trouble communicating and managing behavior, and employers struggle with that,” Goduti said. “But these kids are always on time for work, they are super diligent and they never make excuses.”

Director of the transitional academies, Jackie Peck, said the work experience provided at the Bark-ery and the job placement within the community, helps students learn about what kind of jobs they like and what jobs they aren’t as enthusiastic about.

“It’s about giving them as much as experience as possible and they’re human too so it’s also about finding the right fit for them. If they don’t like cooking, they probably don’t want to work in a restaurant,” Peck said. “We can help them learn about everything.”

Outside of the Bark-ery, at the transitional academy, students learn functional academics and independent living skills like time management and how to write a resume and make a budget. The academy also has a stage apartments where students can practice making meals for themselves, tidying up and doing laundry. In a brand new kitchen, students cook, serve lunch and wash dishes side by side with job coaches.

“We coach them on those skills,” Goduti said.

For Aiden Teel, 19, the best part of working at the Bark-ery is the responsibility he’s given and getting to see all the customer’s dogs.

“I’m not used to making dog treats. I like working here and communicating with people and working as a team,” he said. “I like the responsibility.”

The Bark-ery was started three years ago as an educational program, but has actually grown into a small business, Bark-ery manager Jenny Bishop said. They sell five different kinds of homemade dog treats, as well as items from local vendors like homemade pet blankets, squeaky toys, leashes, knit hats and bow ties.

“Last year our sales went up 89 percent,” Bishop said.

The Bark-ery’s business isn’t the only thing growing at Ädelbrook — the transitional academies recently completed a much needed addition to their building, Goduti said. A yoga studio closed next door, giving the academy the perfect space to expand.

“We continue to get referrals so we knew we needed to grow,” Goduti said.

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Photo above, from left to right: Alyssa Goduti, Aiden Teel, ricky Semprit Jr., Jackie Peck and Jenny Bishop. (Kathleen McWilliams)