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Autistic Closter Twins Learn Job Skills At Norwood Eatery

Jared Yammerino between tasks at Blue Moon Mexican Cafe in Norwood. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Teacher Assistant Susan Warren of Closter helps Jonathan Yammerino of Closter hang a spider web. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Steve Lopresti, transition coordinator with the Summit Program, high fives Thomas Dunn after a job well done. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
The Yammerino twins affixing plastic spiders to Halloween decorations by the entrance of the Blue Moon Mexican Cafe in Norwood. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Jonathan Yammerino vacuuming at the Blue Moon Mexican Cafe. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Thomas Dunn of Northvale taking a break. He has an encyclopedia memory when it comes to name sand birth dates. He asks everyone he meets what their birthday is. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Teacher Assistant Tim Smith of Dumont helps Jonathan Yammerino make a sign. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

NORWOOD, N.J. — Twins Jared and Jonathan Yammerino of Closter – and their classmate, Thomas Dunn of Northvale – love going to work in the mornings at Blue Moon Mexican Cafe in Norwood.

They’re volunteers. And they’re autistic.

General Manager Scott Morrissey greets the young men and their caretakers and teachers most mornings at 9.

For two hours, they practice skills that could one day land them a job.

They take chairs off tables, set the tables, vacuum.

They are in the one-year-old Summit Program, which serves 18- to 21-year-olds. It’s the adult branch of the Norwood-based Valley Program Foundation for Children with Autism.

“Jared and Jonathan have been with the program since pre-school,” said Mark Lampert of Tappan, N.Y., school psychologist.

One recent morning, they worked on Halloween decorations at the restaurant, embedding black plastic spiders on green spider webbing, hanging decorations, and lining up skeletons on a mantelpiece.

They chatted to themselves and with each other as they absorbed themselves in the tasks.

All the while, they were helped and guided by the school team: Susan Warren of Closter and Tim Smith of Dumont, teacher assistants; Steve Lopresti of Harrington Park, transition coordinator; and Lampert.

Other members of the team, back at the school, are Kathy Vuoncino of Waldwick, the revered regional director, and Alexis Avellan of Bergenfield, teacher.

“The boys’ strengths are details and punctuality,” Lampert said.

“They have great stamina with tasks that are redundant,” he added. “They’re happy to do them until completion, and they do also have a creative side to them.”

The young adults circulate among 10 different clusters of work to gauge their strengths, according to Lopresti.

The clusters include collating, doing clerical work, doing custodial work, folding clothes, putting away books in libraries, and stacking supermarket shelves.

“At the end,” he said, “we assess it all and figure out where we can place them, long term.”

It’s important for parents, he added, to know what their children will be doing later in life.

Most of their day comprises the work, Lampert said.

Afterwards, they learn other life and social skills.

“They also practice how to get to and from job opportunities without the assistance of a caretaker,” he added.

So far, young adults in the Summit Program have volunteered at Applebee’s, CVS, Marshalls, and other venues. Two have landed paid work.

“I like the partnership with the community,” Lopresti said, “and especially the partnership with Blue Moon.”

So does Morrissey, who said the chain is very involved with community programs.

“Blue Moon’s business was built on families,” Morrissey said. “Not only are we giving back, but this helps everybody. The students are in here working, learning.

“We get something out of it, too,” he added. “They accomplish something every day.”

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