Debbie Yasinow

#MyMilestones – Learning Alongside Your Intern: How Hiring Individuals with ASD is Beneficial for All

“Would you be willing to intern a young adult on the spectrum?” That was the question posed by my HR department. Milestones Autism Resources had some clients with an interest in art and as Director of the Federation’s Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, I was asked if I had an appropriate project for a six-month internship.

At the time, I didn’t know much about persons with autism, but I was willing to learn. Besides, I had a project on my wish list that I had never gotten around to.  I thought it would be a good experience for me personally, and a mitzvah as well. Then I met Cory Irwin and the internship became so much more.

Cory presenting a piece at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland

As soon as I met Cory, any outdated and uninformed notion I had of a person with autism completely dissolved.  Cory is a 24-year-old college graduate who earned a B.A. in museum studies from Walsh University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in humanities from John Carroll–an amazing accomplishment for any individual.

As I explained the project to Cory, cataloguing artworks in the Federation’s permanent collection, it became apparent that Cory had a vast, almost encyclopedic, knowledge of visual art and art history. He was able to interpret artworks in highly sophisticated ways.  And research? I have never met anyone as resourceful as Cory.  If he couldn’t find information online, he would call libraries. He asked intelligent questions and contacted artists directly for insight into their works.

The final catalog contains detailed essays of over 20 artworks. Each essay explores the background of the artist, artistic influences, and an interpretation of the work. Cory compiled information from numerous sources and authored each of the essays. I quickly ran out of superlatives when describing the quality of his work. Next month, Cory will present his catalog to Federation staff and offer a tour of selected works – works that we pass by every day will now have added meaning. The catalog will also be available to visitors to the Federation’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Building.

But even more than the final catalog, Cory’s presence in the office will have a lasting effect. He was a contributing staff member, attending staff meetings, group outings, and holiday celebrations. Many of my colleagues commented often on his friendliness, outgoing nature, and his passion for his family, faith, and comic books. Cory enjoyed learning from others and was a willing teacher, often sharing his expertise on a variety of topics.
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Cory’s Story – Milestones Client Makes His Mark as Jewish Federation Intern

Over the years, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland has accumulated an extensive Israeli and Jewish art collection. And thanks to our recent Cleveland Israel Arts Connection intern, Cory Irwin, we are able to learn the stories behind each piece. During his six month internship, Cory cataloged the art collection and researched the history of each piece.

Through this experience, both Cory and the Federation learned more than just the backgrounds of artists as Marc Chagall and Helen Frankenthaler. We learned how powerful opportunity can be – for an individual and for an organization.
Cory has autism. Through the support of The Bobby Fund of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Cory came to the Federation from Milestones Autism Resources of Warrensville Heights, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and coaching teens and young adults on the autism spectrum.

From the first day of his internship, Cory became part of the Federation family and our community. “I would say this was the right work and environment for the right person. With those two things, anyone with autism or on the spectrum can be an exemplary worker,” said Cory. “With that support here at Federation, I was an exemplary worker and I know more people can do the same thing. They just need an open door.”

“It was so awesome to watch Cory grow through this experience and see how successful he was through the end,” said Haley Dunn, Milestones Teen and Adult Coordinator. “It’s really a ‘wow’ moment for me to see all the work he put into this project. It’s been a really great match, and I couldn’t be prouder of Cory.”
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