EDGE Shines Light on Career and Social Engagement
Last year, when EDGE Advance expanded to serve young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other learning challenges, one of the first added positions was the Career and Social Engagement Coordinator. Tara Maloney was hired soon after to fill that position. Tara attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN where she double-majored in Theater and Psychology, with a double concentration in Race and Ethnicity & Women and Gender Studies. Tara was awarded the Steen Fellowship Grant to open a free theater camp for children on the West Side of Chicago in partnership with a local Community Center. “It was an amazing opportunity – it really cemented my belief that learning by doing is the best way to go about life. I have held that true to my own life and try to take this approach with our students,” explains Maloney.
After starting at EDGE Advance last December, Tara immediately started an Improv group. She explained that when students first attend, there is usually hesitation and fear, but typically by their second group they begin to open up and after a few sessions, they are begging to play their favorite games. “Many of our students’s on the spectrum shine in the improv group. One past student in particular sticks out. He was on the spectrum and often kept to himself in group settings, however, he loved playing the sketch games. He often came up with hilarious characters that had the entire group howling with laughter. Ultimately it gave him the confidence to interact more openly with his peers.”
As the Career and Social Engagement Coordinator, there is also an emphasis on community outreach – connecting EDGE students to the amazing opportunities Chicago has to offer. One opportunity that Maloney is particularly proud of is a partnership with The Miracle Center, a Puerto Rican theater company and community center located in Logan Square. Tara established an exclusive internship opportunity for EDGE students. With the necessities from the pandemic, many of these opportunities have been limited. But that has not stopped Tara in her quest to create career pathways. “In pre-pandemic times, I took the learning by doing approach with students by having them attend job fairs. I would host a skills group before and attend with the students as support. Since COVID-19, I have been learning by doing right along with my students.” EDGE students have attended online job fairs and, while there are record-high unemployment numbers across the country, the majority of EDGE students who want jobs, have them.
Since COVID 19, Tara has started additional on-site groups: Career Skills, Project-Based Learning, and Social Process Group, in addition to the Improv group. All groups are activity based in order for the students to be active participants in their own learning. Career Skills is a curriculum-based program that hones skills, encourages personal exploration and culminates in a small group business proposal followed by the implementation of a group service project. The idea is for students to practice and understand the skills and talents they bring to a group, to then be able to take this new knowledge and implement it. Project-Based Learning Group is a student-led group in which EDGE students pick a long term project that everyone works on together. They submit a plan, adhere to a budget and time frame in order to complete it. Social Process Group is for students with ASD, NVLD or social anxiety. It is a place for EDGE students to process through social interactions that are confusing or did not go the way they intended.
EDGE Advance is a transitional program for neurodiverse (Autism Spectrum Disorders – ASD, learning disabled) young adults, located in Chicago, IL. Utilizing a clinically integrated coaching model, the goal of EDGE Advance is to create a path for emerging young adults to develop the habits and skills necessary to lead autonomous lives of purpose.