Late summer tends to be thought of as a slow time in New York City. But for more than 50 people with developmental disabilities, this is the height of the season.
Levy Restaurants, the dining partner for the U.S. Open tennis championships, which began its two-week run on Aug. 31, provides the largest seasonal employment opportunity for graduates of YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities’ employment training programs. For the 11th consecutive season, individuals with autism, intellectual and other developmental disabilities, will be responsible for keeping the high-traffic Food Village sparkling.
The workers are employees of The Corporate Source, an agency developed to provide jobs for people with disabilities through outsourcing arrangements with government and the private sector, and a member of the YAI/NIPD network. Participants will collectively work nearly 1,700 hours during the tournament.
Some of the work began during the quieter qualifying rounds of the tournament, which started Aug. 25.
“The U.S. Open is an open championship in every sense of the word, inclusive for players, fans and employees alike,” said Danny Zausner, managing director of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park.
The unemployment rate among people with developmental disabilities is an estimated 80 percent. With 700,000 guests expected to attend the Open, the YAI/NIPD provides a perfect opportunity for people with disabilities to showcase their abilities at a high-profile event and add to their resumes.
Franklin, 56, of Jackson Heights, has worked at the Open for several years. “I enjoy working here and getting work done,” he said. “Working makes me feel good. It’s a lot of fun and I hope I can come back next year.”
For Tashika, 31, of Cambria Heights, working at the U.S. Open has become something of a tradition. She has spent a number of summers working in the high-traffic food village and enjoys cleaning the tables and making sure the area is tidy for the thousands of tennis fans who take a break from the action.
“I love working here,” Tashika said. “Even though it sometimes gets hot during the day, it’s fun working with the customers. I've also gotten to meet some celebrities over the years, like Billie Jean King and Teresa Weatherspoon,” a former WNBA player.
Tashika is working only weekends at the Open this year because she is fortunate enough to have a full-time job working with The Corporate Source at the Nassau County Courthouse. She’s held that job for seven years. At the courthouse, she’s responsible for throwing out boxes, taking out trash, vacuuming and dusting and cleaning the courtrooms and chambers.
To ensure success in their positions, YAI/NIPD provides job coaches to help clients understand their jobs, practice the right communications skills and keep the Food Village clean and well-stocked.
For more than 50 years, the YAI/NIPD network has provided hope and opportunity for people with learning disabilities, serving more than 20,000 clients throughout the New York metropolitan area and Puerto Rico. For more information, visit yai.org.