Sixteen-year old Nick DeMino said he’s considering a career in the jewelry business after having the opportunity to intern at a local jewelry store near his home.
The internship was coordinated by the Arc of Carroll County, a nonprofit that helps and supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
As part of its Summer Youth Employment Program, the organization works to refer students to employment opportunities and help them gain job experience. On average, the program consists of a six-week internship.
Twenty-one students will be graduating from the program this year, including DeMino.
DeMino’s mother, Julia, described her son as “a pretty complex kiddo” with five different diagnoses that impact his daily life, including mild autism, sensory and speech disorders, a learning disability and ADHD.
“At 16, everyone needs a job out of the house, but we didn’t know what that would look like for Nick,” Julia said. “When the opportunity came up to participate in Arc’s program, we decided to investigate.”
Nick has recently been fascinated by gemstones, and he was placed at Starfire Designs, a jewelry store in Eldersburg, with owner Janet Stout.
Although Stout had never worked with anybody with disability in the past, she was willing to try.
“We were very nervous at first,” Julia said. “We didn’t know how people would treat Nick … but Janet was really receptive to having this experience.”
After meeting with the store owner and hearing her number one rule during the internship was to “have fun,” Julia said she was reassured Nick would do well with the experience.
“It was a lot of fun to have him here. … He was very eager to learn,” Stout said, adding he was able to work side-by-side with a gemologist, and learned to use a gem scope, inspect jewelry and change watch batteries. In addition, he witnessed firsthand the ins and outs of running a retail jewelry store.
She said Nick was a great help in setting up and maintaining the store and hopes he “walked away with a great experience that he’ll never forget.”
When Nick would arrive home after a day’s work, Julia said, he would recount everything that happened that day with excitement.
Before parting ways, Stout gave Nick a gift — a starter jewelry kit that he immediately used to inspect his mother’s rings at home.
“He found three loose diamonds,” Julia mentioned. “The opportunity that Ms. Janet provided to him brightened his outlook on the future and jump started his curiosity and learning.”
Nick said he had fun during his internship, adding one of his favorite things he learned was how to fix watches. After such a successful experience, he said he is considering a career as a jeweler.
Don Rowe, executive director of Arc, explained the Summer Youth Employment Program is a “wonderful partnership among many organizations.”
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The Division of Rehabilitation Services helps identify students eligible for the program, pays their wages while they work in the summer, and provides Arc with funding to provide job support.
“Carroll County is wonderful when it comes to this program and hiring students, with the community often providing a variety of opportunities,” he said.
The program has been operating for about 16 years, skipping last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Rowe said he’s thrilled the program is back on with 21 students in the 2021 graduating class.
“We want it to be a meaningful experience,” he said. “Research has indicated students who have employment opportunities in high school have a much higher success rate in getting and maintaining a job.”
Other summer employment placements were made at Fountain Valley Water Lab, Walgreens, a monastery school and various departments in the local government.
With a nationwide unemployment rate among the disabled at 80%, Rowe said those positive first experiences in the workplace are now more important than ever.