Bridging the Opportunity Divide

How Going to the Movies Can Help People with Developmental Disabilities

December 12, 2014
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How Going to the Movies Can Help People with Developmental Disabilities
The theater's mission is to provide education and employment to adults with developmental disabilities. The Prospector Ridgefield Theater
This nonprofit serves up blockbuster showings and tubs of popcorn.

More than 65 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed.

That’s a statistic Valerie Jensen was committed to change as the president of a Connecticut-based organization called SPHERE, which helps people with developmental disabilities.

One day, Jensen was inspired by an empty building that used to be a movie theater: Why not refurbish it and open it as a theater staffed by disabled adults?

Through plenty of hard work and collaboration with other organizations in Ridgefield, Conn., Jensen brought The Prospector Theater to life. Doyle Coffin Architecture designed the building, which features four theaters, a restaurant and a café, and chef Raffaele Gallo came up with the menu. Best yet? The program runs without any government funding, sustaining itself through donations and movie ticket and popcorn sales.

Prospector Theater employees offer moviegoers first-run films such as “Interstellar” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,” plus first-class customer service. “We are returning the cinema to what movie going used to be like,” Jensen tells the Christian Science Monitor. “People will be dazzled by the fantastic customer service. And with that I hope their attitudes will be opened and changed about hiring people with disabilities. We want to break the cycle of unemployment.”

Prospector Theater shows many of its movies during the day — a must, Jensen explained — because it’s difficult for disabled people to find transportation for jobs at night. It also offers training to its employees in such skills as photo editing and cooking.

Jensen says, “Our goal is to have people leave us.” But not without helping plenty of customers have a stellar movie-going experience first.

MORE: Minnesota’s Bold Move to Hire More Employees with Disabilities

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