Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 18
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
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Allies, Inc. Is “Easing the Transition” Between School and the ‘Real World’

Dilshanie Perera

Even in a harsh economic climate, Borough resident Mitchell Synakowski has been able to find and keep his job for the past 14 months.

An employee at PetSmart, Mr. Synakowski, who is turning 21 this month, found work there with the assistance of Mike Cestero, a transition counselor at Allies, Inc., a nonprofit organization serving over 2,000 individuals with disabilities in New Jersey.

“I met Mitch in January of last year,” Mr. Cestero said. “We pounded the pavement and filled out a bunch of applications. The job market is tough, but we found an employment opportunity at PetSmart.”

Mr. Synakowski said he works two or three days per week doing things like stocking shelves and helping customers. “I do the things they require me to do when I get there after school,” he pointed out, adding that “I’m trying to get more hours when I graduate.”

A former student of Princeton High School, Mr. Synakowski now attends the Young Adult Learning Experience (YALE) School in Cherry Hill, from which he will graduate in June.

“Mitch is going from high school out into the ‘real world,’ which can be a scary proposition for students and parents,” Mr. Cestero observed. “Allies helps ease that transition.”

When it opened its doors in 1999, Allies, Inc. consisted of two employees serving one individual. Since then, the nonprofit has grown to include a workforce of 750 people working with 2,200 individuals across the state. They have also partnered with 19 school districts in providing services and assistance to students.

The organization’s scope includes case management, community-based day programs, housing and residential services, transition services, and supported employment, all of which are designed to empower the individuals involved.

Mr. Synakowski collaborated with a group of job coaches after he found employment at PetSmart in order to successfully ease into the work there. His team included Ricky Alfaro, Matt Daly, Melissa Field, Namuli Hirya, and Brian Sienkiewicz, all of whom work for Allies.

After graduation, Mr. Synakowski might be a candidate for a program called Career Gateway, a partnership between Allies and the New Jersey Centers for Independent Living, which combines training with job sampling and internships where students can test out different kinds of employment at various businesses in the community.

“For a teenager or young adult to keep a job for 14 months is amazing,” Mr. Cestero said, adding that the management at PetSmart is highly pleased with Mr. Synakowski’s work. “It’s a big thing, especially these days with so much downsizing,” he noted.

The two have a friendly rapport, and dine at local restaurants (P.J.’s is a favorite) to share details about their lives or celebrate accomplishments, like the one year anniversary of working at PetSmart.

“I’m an ally, literally and figuratively,” Mr. Cestero said.

More information about Allies can be found at

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