Daniel Cohn, 24, cheerfully points out, “I have a great voice for a career in radio,” and has hopes of becoming a commentator on a classic rock station someday. In just a few years, this lively young man has come a long way from the former shy, withdrawn Long Island University college freshman. He and his mother, Sue, attribute much of the change to JCCA’s Compass Project, which serves the special needs of Jewish high school and college students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and/or learning disabilities as they make the difficult transition from school to work and independence. Compass offers counseling, career assessments, vocational training and internships in Long Island, Westchester, Queens and Brooklyn.

“Daniel really blossomed by participating in Compass activities. The staff encouraged him to meet people and make friends, and helped him take the initiative in many ways. He really matured and became much more independent,” says Sue. So much so, in fact, that Daniel now has two jobs—he is an usher at the United Artists movie theater in Westbury and also works one day a week as a cashier at a Kosher meat store. The theater is so pleased with Daniel that they plan to train him to work in the box office and concessions stand. “I love movies, so this is a great job for me,” Daniel notes. His mother adds, “Daniel got terrific job coaching from Compass staff—they gave him the confidence to go after these jobs and supported him so he could perform well once he started to work.”

Daniel continues to participate in Compass activities like Compass Eats, which enables the program’s participants to dine and socialize in a friendly setting, as well as outings to baseball games (he’s a “huge” Mets fan). In 2012, Daniel traveled to Israel on a Birthright trip, an extraordinary experience in which he visited the country with a group of peers who have similar challenges. “It was a great opportunity to see amazing places like Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, and learn about my Jewish identity. It was fun to travel with my friends and to meet new people, too,” he remarks.”

“I’m so thankful for all the support Compass staff has given us. They have really encouraged Daniel and helped him navigate the world of work, and taught him how to function independently,” she concludes.