Dunkin' Donuts Partners with VIA to give Students Real World Experience
Preston Cannon loads napkins at the Dunkin' Donuts in Greene County
Central Virginia Dunkin' Donuts shops are giving students with autism a chance to learn outside the classroom. It's a special partnership between the chain and the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA).
Students are learning skills that help them every day, in work and social situations, and this program is setting them on a path toward independence.
Tasks on Preston Cannon's list for his shift at Dunkin' Donuts teach him more than meets the eye.
"They are skills that can carry over to a lot of service environments, so as long as he adapts to the way things are situated, hopefully he'll be able to do the same kind of jobs at any service location," said Elliott Grieco, Cannon's instructor at VIA.
Cannon goes to VIA, but once a week he works at Dunkin' Donuts in Greene County. Dunkin' Donuts owner Andy Rod partnered with the school after seeing its impact on his own family.
"Our son has been there since he was 3 years old - he's 16. I think there's such a wonderful thing to give back to anything that you do and we try to give back there as much as we can because it's such an incredibly special place," said Rod about VIA.
Preston stocks silverware, loads the napkin dispenser and helps make donuts. Grieco tracks his progress to see which tasks are helping him the most, and where he could improve.
"The point is for us to get him as close to independence as possible, so we're always striving for that moment where he can do work placements by himself," said Grieco.
At the end of the day, Cannon gets the immediate reward of a pink donut, but in June, he will graduate from VIA and enter the adult services program. His instructors expect he will be added to the payroll at Dunkin' Donuts, and financial independence will be the long-term reward.
There are currently four VIA students working in the Dunkin' Donuts program.
Rod says he hopes it will continue to expand, and that more students - even students who don't go to VIA - will be able to gain some independence.
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