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Sam at Peter Piper Pizza

Say Cheese! Hiring individuals with autism is something to smile about

By Nicole Ehrlich

When Thomas Thorme, senior general manager, and Robert Mason, assistant manager, of Peter Piper Pizza in Greenacres, FL, heard about an opportunity to hire individuals on the autism spectrum, they welcomed the idea with open arms. Having family members with autism, the managers knew the impact they could make by employing someone on the spectrum.

“We want to be able to grow awareness in the community, as well as provide opportunities as an employer to individuals on the spectrum that may not regularly be given experience to work without limitations in our society,” Thomas said.

One of the individuals they hired was Sam Klinger, 22, who has worked at Peter Piper Pizza for the past eight months, about 12 hours a week.

Sam is a graduate of the Els for Autism Foundation’s Work Experience program, which prepares individuals with autism for paid employment. During Sam’s program session he worked for Jupiter Medical Center in the environmental services and dietary departments, an experience that helped prepare him for his current role at Peter Piper Pizza.

His responsibilities can vary depending on the shift, but Sam is often tasked with keeping the napkin and plastic utensils filled at the self-service counter and maintaining the cleanliness of the dining room area. On slower days he can be found in the game room, behind the prize counter, exchanging guests’ hard-won tickets for prizes.

Sam loves his job and the employee perk of a staff meal on his break. “I like the garlic knots and pepperoni pizza,” Sam said, adding that he enjoys “a salad every now and then.”

Victoria Jaimes, one of Sam’s co-workers, lights up when asked about Sam. “I love coming in to work a shift when he is working. He is just so positive and awesome to be around.”

Working with Sam is not only fun, but Thomas says it has helped him, as well as his team members, to strengthen their patience and communication skills. If Sam is struggling to complete a task, the staff has learned to slow down and reiterate or come up with another solution.

“The positivity and energy he brings to every shift cannot be traded or discounted. Sam has an integral role in our team’s dynamic and we are so fortunate to have him,” Thomas said.