WEST CHESTER, Pa. — A new convenience store, West Chester University’s Ram Shop, has opened in West Chester, Pa. The store is staffed by degree-seeking WCU students who have autism. A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony took place Sept. 6.
The campus store is the students’ training ground for learning critical job skills that can be applied directly to any empowering work setting, and it is the only teaching model of its kind in the United States for college-degree seeking students who are on the autism spectrum.
The Ram Shop is the direct result of a partnership between the University’s Dub-C Autism Program (D-CAP) and Student Services Inc. (SSI). West Chester University President Chris Fiorentino and Chair of the Board for SSI Bernie Carrozza will be among those speaking and cutting the ribbon.
The store is composed of two floors that have dedicated outcomes. The store’s second level functions as a day-to-day student support program where students work intently on living-learning goals, study, perform group activities and have sensory-free areas. The first level, now officially named the Ram Shop, sells grab-and-go and convenience items and functions as a hands-on training ground for the students to practice and master the social and professional skills needed to work effectively.
Ram Shop employs two types of D-CAP students who are on the autism spectrum: paid D-CAP students, and volunteers who will be D-CAP students learning the work-readiness skills needed to eventually be employed in the store or across campus. In addition, other WCU student employees who do not have autism are being hired and will participate in sensitivity training on how to work effectively with those who have autism.
“We believe that if a student is accepted to West Chester University, it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to help that student succeed,” Fiorentino said. “The Ram Shop is just one example of how our access mission is being implemented. This university is truly committed to helping students achieve success and cross the finish line. [SSI] shares this goal, and we are deeply grateful that they have, once again, jumped in eagerly to provide the resources that our students need.”
“SSI recognizes that students have various types of need, and we want to make a significant difference in their lives,” Carrozza said. “SSI welcomes the opportunity to provide a positive working environment that can act as the students’ very first training ground. All of us support the drive and determination of these students to secure a college education.”
Many areas of the university have also come together to make the Ram Shop a reality. Assistant Professor of Graphic and Interactive Design Scotty Reifsnyder’s Design for Social Good art class was tasked with designing murals for two sites on campus that provide community service and inclusion; one mural was for the Ram Shop and the other mural was for the WCU Resource Pantry. The Ram Shop now features a mural created by student designers Kayla Degenshein and Taylor Goad. In addition, chaired by D-CAP student Sean Bastian, a group of D-CAP students designed a special T-shirt that has been selected to be sold in the store; the front of the yellow T-shirt reads, “The Autistic Voice.” All proceeds from the t-shirt sales will go toward the funding of D-CAP social activities.