Law Enforcement Partnership Kickstarts Job Program for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

FREEHOLD – The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office is the anchor for a pilot program between The Arc of New Jersey, The Arc of the US, and local police departments that starts this week. Five Monmouth County law enforcement agencies are providing special needs citizens with an opportunity to serve as interns, called Cadets, to learn valuable job skills, and contribute to the diversity and inclusivity of the agencies, announced Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

The collaboration, dubbed Growth Through Opportunity (GTO), is a 16-week Cadet program that provides individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with an opportunity to intern in a law enforcement agency to learn valuable job skills and contribute to the diversity and inclusivity of those agencies.

“We are excited to be the first county in New Jersey to pilot this program, which is being supported by grants from The Arc of the United States and The Arc of New Jersey. This program has huge potential for providing important job skills and a lifeline for our local citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  It also provides law enforcement agencies with an opportunity to learn from the Cadets and to gain perspective on interacting with persons who have intellectual and developmental disabilities every day, in non-emergency situations.” Gramiccioni said.

The Growth Through Opportunity (GTO) Cadet program was founded by retired law enforcement Officer Travis Akins, who launched the program in November 2014 with the Roanoke, Va. Police Department. Akins, whose son became the very first Cadet, is a passionate crusader and is working hard to spread his Growth Through Opportunity program to other law enforcement agencies throughout the country. The program is designed to provide adults of all ages with intellectual or developmental disabilities: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other unique challenges, an opportunity to gain valuable job skills and social experience in a professional setting.

“The end goal is that the experiences that the Cadets have in our workplaces will translate into their ability to obtain employment after they graduate from this program,” Akins said.

GTO partners with community first responders to give the participants and first responders a better understanding of each other, resulting in positive interactions in real life situations.

“This program has tremendous potential and we would love for law enforcement agencies across New Jersey to replicate this Monmouth County Pilot Program. We all benefit by opening doors to opportunity for those challenged with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This program promises to prove that,” said 11th District State Senator Vin Gopal.

Adult participants spend 16 weeks volunteering at the various law enforcement agencies across the nation receiving career and life skills training. Each GTO cadet is given their own uniform and can work at the department for up to 12 hours per week. Officers work with each candidate and their families to hone the volunteer experience specifically for their interests and goals, and Cadets participate in this training program with the goal of transitioning into paid employment upon graduation.

“We are proud that the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Eatontown, Holmdel, Marlboro and Red Bank Police Departments volunteered to pilot for this program in New Jersey. This is a program that delivers the promise of a better future for our citizens challenged with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone.

The GTO program yields a 98 percent graduation rate. Since its inception, the program has graduated 15 GTO cadet classes in Minnesota and Virginia. The GTO program works in conjunction with local Employment Service Providers and has maintained a 90 percent job placement rate for its graduates, and many graduates have moved on to live independently with daily monitoring from their social workers. Monmouth County is the first GTO Cadets site in New Jersey and the program is scheduled to launch additional programs in South Carolina, California, North Carolina, and Tennessee in the next few months.

Five law enforcement agencies have volunteered to host GTO Cadets for 16 weeks starting in October – Eatontown, Holmdel, Marlboro, Red Bank, and the Prosecutor’s Office.

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