A campus store that employs, trains and supports students with autism

The Ram Shop is a unique store that serves as an employment and training ground for degree-seeking students with autism. It is the only campus convenience store in the US that provides:

  1. To employ non- D-CAP WCU students and provide sensitivity training to prepare them for working with or FOR someone on the autism spectrum
  2. To employ D-CAP students at the store
  3. To provide a work-readiness program to teach D-CAP students skills needed to apply for employment either at Ram Shop or another campus partner location.

The one-of-a-kind program started because of the partnership between the university’s Dub-C Autism Program (D-CAP) and Student Services, Inc. (SSI). On September 6, 2019 (Friday, 11 a.m.), a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in The Ram Shop at 20 Linden St., West Chester, PA.

WCU President Chris Fiorentino and SSI Chair of the Board of Directors Bernie Carrozza were both present to cut the ribbon. In his speech, Mr. Fiorentino said it is the university’s responsibility to do whatever they can to help their students succeed.

“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. Student Services, Inc. shares this goal, and we are deeply grateful that they have, once again, jumped in eagerly to provide the resources that our students need,” he added.

SSI seemed like the perfect partner to implement the project. Mr. Carrozza said SSI recognizes that students have various needs, and they want to make a significant difference in their lives.

“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,” said Mr. Carrozza.

Aside from the two parties, other people in the university helped in implementing The Ram Shop. These include professors and students who contributed in their own ways.

The Design for Social Good class taught by Scotty Reifsnyder, Assistant Professor of Graphic and Interactive Design, designed murals for two sites on the campus. Five teams were identified as candidates, with Kayla and Taylors design being picked by d-cap students for the Ram Shop.

D-cap is important to develop leadership opportunities for D-cap students.  Shawn Bastian was the chair of the D-cap t-shirt comity to design a special D-cap t-shirt sold in the store.  The front of the shirt design is a turtle with puzzle pieces and that was %100 designed by students in D-cap. The back has sayings from D-cap students, representing the voice of D-cap students.  This project was done entirely by D-cap Students from creation to business plan.  Proceeds will be used for the funding of D-CAP social activities.

Aside from being a campus store, The Ram Shop is an inclusive hiring program that caters to both D-cap students and non D-cap West Chester University students.  Non D-cap West Chester University employees who do not have autism participate in sensitivity training so they can work effectively with those who have. D-CAP members, either hold positons of cashier/marketing or participate in the employment readiness program.

The store has two levels that are dedicated to different activities. The ground floor serves as the convenience store officially named The Ram Shop. Students with autism work here, and their tasks in the store function as their hands-on training on social and professional skills.

On the other hand, the second level is for the D-CAP, which is a University support program. Here, students are free to study, participate in group activities, and work on their living-learning goals. The floor also has a friendly area dedicated to students with autism.