Updated: Sep 13
Elvis is a student at the Ray Graham Training Center, a Chicago public high school, and works at the Walmart Neighborhood Market at the corner of Cermak and Western.
“My first day was on New Year’s Eve, 2021. It was a Friday and there weren’t a lot of people at the store that day,” Elvis remembers. He works at the store four to five days a week and performs general maintenance, stocks shelves and translates for customers who speak Spanish.
Image: Elvis on his first day on the job at Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Elvis got the job at Walmart Neighborhood Market through his connection with the Urban Autism Solutions West Side Transition Academy. The Academy provides services that complement those offered at Chicago Public Schools for young adults with autism and related challenges, which may not be available in the intensity and duration needed by some students. Students come to the Academy to receive speech and language and occupational therapy, meet with social workers as needed, and participate in community integration activities. For students who are job-ready, such as Elvis, the Academy staff works intensely with each candidate to prepare them for job interviews and work life. Once a student becomes employed, they receive on-the-job training and support.
Elvis started coming to the Academy in 2020 (the Academy operated entirely online in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and participated in online communication and social/emotional skills development sessions, job-readiness training, resume and interviewing workshops and several virtual job shadows. Once it was clear that Elvis was an excellent candidate to work in competitive employment, he and his parents spent time meeting with the Urban Autism Solutions staff to talk about next steps.
Mike Tracy, co-founder of Urban Autism Solutions and community outreach manager, knew how badly Elvis wanted to work at Walmart Neighborhood Market. Elvis told mike working at that Walmart was his dream job, especially since it’s close to his home and he can easily take public transportation to get there.
“Mike spoke with the manager at Walmart and told him about me and helped me out with the application, and came with me to training every day for a couple of weeks,” said Elvis.
Mike helps students with everything from the application process and interviewing to getting a state ID and bank account set up for direct deposits once they get the job.
Once a student secures a job, Mike and his team shift into job coaching mode, going with the new employee to orientation, assisting in filling out paperwork, and attending orientation alongside the employee to make sure any hiccups are identified immediately. In the following weeks and months, Mike and his team continue to check-in with the employer, student and parents as needed to ensure success.
“One of the keys to success is trying to find students jobs at stores they are interested in working at and which are located close to home or school, so that it’s easy for them to get there,” Mike said.
Elvis has done so well at work that his employer has recently increased his hours.
Elvis is coming up on an important review with his employer and anticipates it going well. “I really like working at Walmart, especially helping people who need me to translate for them to get different things at the store or explain things to them,” Elvis said.