West Windsor, N.J. – Jessica Vandergrift, a student enrolled in Mercer County Community College's DREAM (Developing Real Expectations For Achieving Mastery) program, gracefully embraced what most people rank as one of their number one fears. She spoke before a packed house at the MCCC Conference Center in April, delivering the welcome address for the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities' “Career Planning and Readiness” conference.
Approximately 200 disabilities professionals listened to Jessica's employment story, along with some heartfelt words of wisdom, as she helped to kick off the daylong event.
Vandegrift, who has been a student in the college’s DREAM program since 2010, has worked part-time at Kohl’s Department Store for several years, spending most of her workday in the children’s and toy departments.
“I love my job,” Vandegrift told the crowd, adding that it makes her day when she sees happy faces on the children of customers. She noted that her road has not been easy, but she advised others with disabilities to keep a positive attitude.
“I believed that I could get a job. You have to keep going,” she said. “Make something special of yourself. You can help make the world a better place.”
According to DREAM Program Coordinator Sue Onaitis, Vandegrift was selected to speak because of her positive employment experience. “Jessica was able to share her successes and satisfactions with the audience. She is an outstanding representative of the DREAM program and our college community,” Onaitis said.
Mercer’s DREAM program was established in 2006 and has grown to include more than 60 students. It provides postsecondary programs and courses for students with intellectual disabilities, ages 18-25, who concentrate on developing reading, writing and math skills, as well as other areas of academic interest. Students also strengthen career, social and independent living skills.
The conference was hosted by the Family Resource Network in collaboration with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the New Jersey Department of Education and the Office of Special Education. Information about employment, including pre-employment tests and surveys, was available.
Attendees included education and support employment professionals, young adults with disabilities and their family members.
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DREAM staff member Gina D’Annunzio, students
Ryan Corcoran and
Jessica Vandegrift, mentor
Joshua Stanlaw, student
Lisa Patel and Program Coordinator