A retired special-education teacher, who now owns We Be OB Community Deli, has reconnected with his prior occupation by launching a pilot job training program aiding the developmentally disabled.
Jim Leiner of We Be OB Community Deli at 5020 West Point Loma Blvd., started a Micro-Entrepreneurship Pilot Program on May 1 with a nonprofit he created years ago on May 1.
“The Pioneer Foundation is a nonprofit that supports individuals with autism to integrate them into the community,” said Leiner, adding he retired as a teacher 16 years ago to “work more on the foundation side of things.”
Speaking of the genesis of his nonprofit, Leiner said: “I started noticing that the more severely disabled children, as they aged out of the education system, that there was really nowhere for them to go. There were a handful of adult programs for them, but not enough of them.”
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today.
Pointing out autism today is much more prevalent than it has been for undetermined reasons, Leiner noted that autistic people, who are are usually in school until age 22, are now “overwhelming the adult system that is highly underfunded when they leave the school system.”
In response to that reality, Leiner said, “I’ve been working on this pilot model of support, which is a partnership combining for-profit and non-profit organizations and a regional center to provide funding and support for adults with developmental disabilities who are no longer connected to schools.”
Using his OB deli as a workshop for the developmentally disabled, Leiner’s inaugural pilot program will initially involve multiple school-age children and three adults.
He talked about the particulars of the pilot program.
“The students get a food handler’s card and as part of their curriculum they learn how to take (menu) orders on iPads,” Leiner said. “We help them with vocational activity teaching them how to do support jobs like passing out fliers, delivering food to Robb Field, biking around taking orders, and delivering food to people at the park.”
Leiner has employed behavior analysts to “break down all our jobs, task by task, to help developmentally disabled students do everything from changing the trash to making smoothies and sandwiches.”
A future project Leiner has planned for instructing the developmentally disabled involves water.
“We want to develop their social skills and vocational training programs that are based around aquatic activities, boats, etc.,” he said. “What I’ve found over the years is that autistic kids who have some behavioral challenges, when they get around water, they’re cool and calm. So we’re going to be adding some aquatic therapy.”