A new facility to help employ adults with autism is beginning construction in West Babylon.

The Winters Center for Autism broke ground for its new campus, located at 92 Mahan Street, earlier this week. They are expecting a May 2021 completion. 

Spanning across two buildings, a combined 21,000-square-feet of instructional space, this state-of-the-art campus will be used to teach vocational and life skills to adults with autism. With this training, the nonprofit will help adults with autism find jobs. It will also assist Long Island businesses in helping to develop and implement programs to employ people on the spectrum.

“The brand-new Winters Center for Autism will help Long Island’s caring employers to create, develop and implement job training programs for adults on the autism spectrum,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “The lives of these individuals will benefit through the self-confidence that comes from a job well-done.”

The nonprofit was established last year by Joe Winters, chairman and CEO of Winters Bros. Waste Systems, and his wife Michele. Their son, Sean, is impacted by autism.

“For years, he wanted to give back to the autism community at large,” Chris Ponzio, executive director of the center, told GreaterBabylon. After going through the process of having a child on the spectrum, the Winters family became strong advocates for high-quality services and opportunities for individuals with autism.

Ponzio said that right now 10,000 adults are living with autism on Long Island. The typical unemployment rate of adults with autism is 85%, and now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 90% of these adults are without jobs.

“The Winters Center for Autism is going to change that. Many people with autism want to work and share their talents,” said Ponzio.

Ponzio said that the center will have rooms and training spaces for a variety of different skills. There will be a deli, grocery, small laundromat, salon and mock hotel room to give these adults the skills needed to join the local workforce. 

“So many of these young men and women leave high school where they get a lot of support,” she said. “But they do need that connection and skill training to get a job.” 

Additional job services will include career planning, interview preparation, exploration of volunteer and educational opportunities and employer assistance to develop easy to implement employment programs for people with autism.

The campus will also offer indoor and outdoor spaces for health and wellness activities, including a sensory garden, greenhouse, and Brigid’s Cafe, a neighborhood eatery named after Winters’ mom.

Ponzio added that they will exclusively work with people with autism 18 years and older. Their goal is to help people on the spectrum who have more support needs.  

“We want to help people find the right jobs with the right companies,” she said. “To be part of something that will bring optimism and hope is unbelievable… We’re excited to start changing the job landscape for people with autism.” 

Photos courtesy of The Winters Center for Autism