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PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton's University Place Wawa convenience store marked its 35th anniversary last week with an in-store celebration of workers, customers and a partnership with local autism organizations that provides autistic workers with employment opportunities, according to CentralJersey.com.
To commemorate its Supported Employment Program, Wawa presented a $50,000 check to Eden Autism Services. The store, a local landmark that has served Princeton and the Princeton University community for decades, was also the site of the program's origin 28 years ago. At that time, the store hired Ari Shriner, the first autistic associate hired by Wawa.
The event also honored another autistic associate, Bobby Walsh, an early program participant who died recently.
The success of these original Princeton associates was part of the impetus behind Eden's creation of Eden WERCS. It offers autistic individuals secure, center-based work, supported employment with a job coach and competitive employment based on the success of the Wawa system.
In total, Wawa employed 32 participants in 12 area stores through the local branch of the program. Elsewhere, Wawa employs more than 500 supported-employment associates chainwide, and the company works with dozens of employment agencies, including Bancroft Neurohealth and Allies, both in New Jersey, according to company spokeswoman Lori Bruce.
John Golias, the store's general manager, stressed that the program "isn't just a charity."
He said his current associates, Martin Macarone and Ari Shriner, who are both in their 40s, earn Wawa's top associate pay rate, despite current economic pressures affecting all manners of business. Golias has simply declined to cut his Eden associates' hours or pay.
Both associates work around 28 hours a week and come in with a job coach who helps them through their work.
"They never miss a day and they have a routine," said Golias. "They keep getting more and more things done around here. They really contribute."
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