Teaching Hands-On Life Skills

The Ram Store serves as a classroom for West Chester University students with autism.

September 11, 2019

WEST CHESTER, Penn.—The Ram Store looks like your typical college campus convenience store, with its snacks, drinks and university apparel. But it’s the staff that makes this store unique—the employees are autistic students, who are part of the university’s D-CAP program, NBC10 reports.

“When they leave here, they are in a position to engage in the world of work and not automatically be seen as unemployable,” said Chris Fiorentino, West Chester president.

D-CAP is the school’s employment-readiness program for students with autism. The Ram Shop gives them hands-on training and a safe place to practice the social and professional skills needed to succeed beyond college.

“I’m learning a lot about how to communicate with people and advocating for myself with my job, but I feel like I’m learning a bunch of valuable skills here,” said sophomore Katie Knoll, who works as a cashier. “You need to learn to be responsible with your work schedule, you need to learn how to communicate with your boss.”

Senior Tyler Haney, who also works part-time at the store, transferred to West Chester specifically for its autism program. “I think it’s possible for students on the autism spectrum to do college and they’re set up to succeed when they’re in a program like this,” he said.

“Why get a degree if it doesn’t lead to employment?” said Cherie Fishbaugh with D-CAP. “We want to make sure that we provide an environment and the training and the skills to support our students not only while they’re in college but post college.”

To learn more about how convenience stores are providing employment and training to those with disabilities, be sure to check out “Eager to Work” in the June issue of NACS Magazine.