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Who Says . . . People with Disabilities Can't Work?

The YAI Network believes that every person, regardless of age or level of ability, is entitled to the same dignity, respect and opportunities as all other members of society. YAI Network gives people with developmental and learning disabilities the tools they need to be independent and productive members of their communities. Ayana is just one of thousands of individuals who benefit from our services.

Ayana is about to celebrate a big anniversary. January 2011 will mark one year since she started her job as a bagger at the ShopRite on Joyce Avenue in New Rochelle, N.Y. But this is much more than a job.

As she scans the long row of registers, she starts bagging at lane 16. It’s getting busy on a Friday afternoon, but it’s quite clear that Ayana welcomes the interaction with customers and colleagues.

"I have a lot of friends here," Ayana says. "A lot of the customers know me and it makes me feel happy."

Indeed, Ayana’s bright smile and infectious laugh, accompanied by a hearty clap, brighten the days of customers and co-workers alike. Ayana is one of four individuals with developmental disabilities who receive services from YAI’s Westchester Employment program working at the store.

"It’s her enthusiasm, her motivation and she’s always smiling," said Damaris Rivas, ShopRite’s Shopper Advocate, explaining what made Ayana stand out in interviews. "She wants to work."

"She's doing great," said Antoinette Muscietta, a shopper from the Bronx, as Ayana bagged her order.

When Ayana came to YAI in 2008, she was disappointed that a famly move from Brooklyn to Yonkers meant leaving behind a job she enjoyed at a Chinese restaurant. She was tentative and shy in her new environment. But an internship with ShopRite in Yonkers  and working with teams of individuals with disabilities through YAI’s-BOCES summer program, at Walmart, Pizzeria Uno and Legal Seafood, helped her connect with her peers. A few months later, she was thrilled when she was hired for the opening of Shoprite’s New Rochelle store.

"It feels like this is a second home and a second family for her,"” said Sean Sweeney, an Employment Training Specialist from YAI's Westchester Employment Services program, who has worked closely with Ayana and has seen tremendous changes in her demeanor since she started the job.

"She's a totally different person," Sean said. "She has great relations with all the cashiers, has conversations with the customers while bagging and everyone enjoys speaking with her."

Ayana is proud to be earning a paycheck. She realizes that working at ShopRite is much better than her job at the Chinese restaurant. She looks forward to growing in her position. "I'm staying in my job," Ayana said, "because I love it."

The YAI Network needs your help to continue to make a difference. Cutbacks in government funding jeopardize the important work that we do. We are asking for your support so we can continue to provide critical services for Ayana and thousands of others adults and children with disabilities and their families.

Learn more about our many ways to give -- we have options that fit every budget and financial situation. You may also make an online donation now.

You can also get involved with us by advocating with us, providing a job opportunity for a person with a disability, joining our Brighter Futures Society, attending a special event or taking part in our Corporate Volunteer Program!  

Whether you are a longtime supporter of the YAI Network or participating for the first time, thank you so much for all that you do to help us make a difference. For more information, please contact support@yai.org or 1-877-YAI-GIFT (924-4438).