Jamie Peterson likes to put away the peanut butter.

He also likes the dishroom at Pierson College.

Peterson is a student at Hillhouse High School and a participant in the Hillhouse Food Internship Program, and he hopes to get a permanent position with Yale Dining Services. This program teaches mentally and physically disabled students the skills they will need when they enter the work force. A group of four students from Hillhouse works weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the dining hall with their job coach, who supervises their progress. The students receive their paychecks as stipends from the Regional Workforce Development Board under the Workforce Incentive Grant.

Through tasks such as washing dishes and preparing dessert, the students not only gain experience in the field of food preparation, but they also have a chance to learn the skills and responsibilities they will need in the future, said Ian Hobbes, manager of the Pierson College dining hall.

“It is nice to see that they get an opportunity,” Hobbes said. “Someone gives them a chance and they’re not just pushed to the side.”

Chris Baldino, the program’s special education teacher, said the program was started seven years ago. After a chance meeting at a wedding in New Haven with Hillhouse’s George Caruso, current Davenport College Dining Hall Manager Jim Moule decided to bring the internship program to Pierson. Moule had been involved in a similar program at the Divinity School and said he felt the program was worth being restarted at Pierson when he was transferred there.

“It makes you feel good that the kids come in and accomplish something,” Moule said.

The food internship program is a joint effort between dining hall union workers, the University and the students at Hillhouse High School, Moule said. It is the responsibility of the job coach and Hobbes to ensure that the students are learning in a safe and productive environment. Hobbes makes sure that the students do not use any potentially dangerous equipment.

Equally important, Moule said, is that the students do not take the place of the union workers. The students are encouraged to work with the dining hall workers, and job coaches monitor workers so they do not take advantage of the students.

“The students who come here from Hillhouse like to come here not only to work, but also to interact with the staff,” Hobbes said.

Baldino agrees that the program would not be possible without the staff participation or the resources of Pierson dining hall. The training site is ideal for maximizing the program’s human resources and the dining hall workers have been ideal, she said.

“The staff in the dining hall, who assist us in mentoring and teaching, has been helpful and patient and support the efforts of our wonderful job coach,” Baldino said. “[They have been] instrumental in helping the students feel a part of the community,” she added.

In some cases, the students in the program have gone on to receive permanent positions. Some students, like Peterson, have career goals of working at a Yale dining hall. To be eligible to apply for a job at Yale, Thompson must pass a trial period first, a test Hobbes said he will surely pass. Even for those who do not find jobs at Yale after the program, however, the students at Hillhouse receive the benefits of having their first exposure to the world of work, Baldino said.

“There is nothing quite like seeing a student get his first paycheck,” Baldino said.

While the administrators of the program agree that it is invaluable in teaching the students work ethic and responsibility, the Hillhouse students themselves are excited about the program and enjoy their time spent at Pierson.

“I think it’s nice and I love working there,” said Howard Oliver, a participant who added that he likes washing dishes and clearing the tables.

Most Pierson students questioned admitted they were unaware that such a program existed at their college. Justin Cohen ’04, who did know of the program, said he understands why the program might not want to make a big deal of the Hillhouse students’ special circumstance. It is beneficial to have them work without giving them that qualification of being mentally disabled, he said.

“I think one of the most important things for Yale to do is reach out to the community,” Cohen added. “The dining hall staff is already strongly rooted in the New Haven community.”

The community the Hillhouse students find at Yale along with their energy and enthusiasm is something that inspires Moule, he said. The program instills in the students the sense of accomplishment that is gained by being a part of the work force.

“When you give them a uniform, they brighten up,” Moule said. “They have a job and a responsibility. They take pride in the fact that they wear a Yale hat.”