In many ways, Preston is a typical young adult. He is pursuing his Masters of Science in Special Education while teaching, dancing, and singing on the side. He also finds time every day to see his friends and family. But his progress has come with challenges. Preston was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, at the age of four.
He recalls his college years: “Princeton can be overwhelming for anyone, but my Asperger’s certainly didn’t make things any easier. I was never sure how to talk about my disability, and it was sometimes really hard to understand many of the subtle social cues that were part of such a high-pressure environment like college.”
After Princeton he pursued a career in dance. He met with moderate success for several years, including being featured in a music video. But when it came to more standard professional pursuits, such as being a legal writer or a Special Education teacher, the transition was difficult. After losing five jobs in five years, he decided that enough was enough. “I realized I was going to need an extra source of support if I wanted to make it in the professional world, that’s when I contacted Compass.”
JCCA’s Compass Project provides counseling, career and educational direction, social skills support, internships, and employment for young adults, while helping them become more independent.
Preston started working with Evan Oppenheimer, then Compass Project Coordinator. Preston says, “Evan helped me get to the heart of what I really value and how I can create this in a job situation. We have open-ended discussions about my future goals and also talk about specific skill-building, like practice interviews and resume revision.”
Their work has been transformative for Preston. “I always knew I had a drive to help others; Evan helped me understand why I wanted to do it.” Preston was recently asked by the Compass Project to join the Youth Leadership Council. “It feels great to be a part of a community of like-minded peers. We are all supportive of each other,” he says. He enjoys connecting to the larger community through outreach projects, such as the delivery of 100 Christmas packages to the Huntington Head Start Program. “This is helping me grow as a person—not as ‘a person with Asperger’s.’”
With Evan’s help, Preston has decided he wants to help at-risk young adults get the services and support they need to succeed. He says, “I want to help others with a disability and help them see their abilities.”