For nearly eight months, Ronell Culbengan took the train from Morris Park to his job at an H&M near Herald Square. The work enabled Culbengan to earn a steady income, while bonding with colleagues and forging the sort of social connections that can elude him.
But then COVID-19 hit New York City, shutting down the store and disrupting Ronell’s daily routine.
“The main thing is not being able to get paid, but the challenging part is not being able to see my coworkers because they helped me change my life around ever since I started to work,” said Culbengan.
The sudden and prolonged disruption to regular life can be particularly challenging for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities, like Culbengan.
To bridge the uncertainty, the organization Birch Family Services has stepped up to provide remote activities that continue connecting individuals for whom socialization can be a challenge.
Birch’s New Frontier program provides career training, job placement and consistent support for about 50 people with autism and developmental disabilities. Since the COVID-19 shutdown, Birch and New Frontier staff has increased counseling, outreach and group sessions via video conference.
“A change in routine for people with autism can sometimes seem insurmountable,” said New Frontier Employment Specialist Manager Ludovica Alcorn. “That kind of shift can be really challenging so it was important for the New Frontier team to continue with our regularly scheduled meetings, with no disruptions.”