L. to R.: Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, Christine Ponzio, Patrick Winters, Sean Winters, Michele Winters, Joe Winters, Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer, Senator John E. Brooks, Sean Winters, Smithtown Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim, Councilman Antonio Martinez.

With hard-hats donned and shovels in hand, local officials ceremoniously broke ground Tuesday on the nonprofit Winters Center for Autism’s new campus in West Babylon. 

The ceremony kicked off construction of the 14,000-square-foot state-of-the-art building that will provide sorely needed Long Island-based employment opportunities to adults with autism spectrum disorder. 

“People with autism want to experience purpose and fulfillment just like everyone else,” said Christine Ponzio, executive director of the Winters Center.

The need for a middleman to connect adults with autism to employers across LI is strong. While the unemployment rate in the U.S. is usually below 4 percent, the unemployment rate for people with autism can be as high as 90 percent. There is a substantial gap in the amount of services available to autistic adults compared to children’s programs. 

The nonprofit Winters Center seeks to fill this gap by making mutually beneficial connections through job creation, training, and placement programs. The nonprofit will identify the skills and talents of individuals with autism and will reach out to the business community to create new, easily incorporated jobs. 

Adults with autism will enjoy a renewed sense of independence and individualism from working, while employers will reap the benefits of taking on workers who possess valuable qualities such as honesty, problem solving skills, and a well-honed focus, the nonprofit leaders said. 

Joseph Winters, founder and president of the Winters Center and owner of Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island, a West Babylon-based trash pickup company, was inspired to found the nonprofit organization following the experience he had with his own son, Sean.

“Having a job has brought Sean such a sense of pride and purpose in his life,” Winters said.

Twenty-three years ago, Winters drove all the way from his home in Vermont to Smithtown to seek treatment when his son was diagnosed with autism at age 2. After realizing that there was no better place for him to find treatment nearby, Winters returned a few weeks later, moving his entire family to Smithtown in support of his son. 

“Since that time, [Winters] has been relentless in his passion, his persistence, and his tenacity, not only for his son, but for the autism community at large,” said Ponzio. 

After implementing a highly inclusive model employment program at his trash hauling company, Winters realized that it was time for him to take the next step in aiding other businesses across LI in hiring capable adults and welcoming them into their companies. 

“My dream is that in five years from now, every company on Long Island will have a workforce that includes people with autism,” said Winters. “So please join me, Long Island, in hiring for a higher purpose.”

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