Jake Arvizu smiled from ear to ear as he picked up a pen and signed his contract – securing his employment at LA North Studios following an internship.
“I gotta say, it’s always been something new every time I come here and each time it’s always something good. So I’m very happy to be here,” said Arvizu after he signed.
Arvizu, who is on the autism spectrum, had the opportunity to intern at LA North through a local nonprofit called Yes I Can. The team members at LA North were so impressed by his enthusiasm, strong worth ethic and determination, they felt as if they were the lucky ones to have him on their team.
“I didn’t know that this program, [Yes I Can], existed a couple of years ago. If people have questions about that, it’s easy to see how it’s working,” said LA North partner Anthony Syracuse. “I think that anybody that has the opportunity to their business to be able to meet a person like Jake, I think they’ll realize that they’re the lucky ones [and] I really believe that.”
Jake’s parents, Lisa and Chris Arvizu, said it wasn’t always an easy road to Friday’s signing and Jake faced several setbacks along the way, similar to ones that everyone on the autism spectrum faces. But Jake persevered, he worked hard and found an organization that would make his dream of working in the film industry come true.
“I mean, going through school, it was just tough for him to learn like everybody else. He just learned in a different way. I wouldn’t say he was slower, but he didn’t need like a traditional ‘go to school with a teacher,’” said Chris. “He needed something hands-on, to get him ready to go. He couldn’t do it [in traditional school]. He just was distracted over everything. So unless he was focused, then he would have issues. But anyways, he graduated high school on time, and he went through all that.”
Jake would end up going to College of the Canyons following high school and earn his associate’s degree. Following that, he went to the Los Angeles County Fire Department Academy and passed, earning him the title of fire explorer. But this wasn’t his dream — he wanted to work with movies, his passion. So his mom, Lisa, started calling around and eventually found Yes I Can.
“It was a struggle for Jake through elementary school, trying to find proper placement for him took a long time. But with insistence and faith in our son’s abilities, he was pushed to do more than anyone ever expected of him,” wrote Lisa in a letter to The Signal. “Programs like ‘Yes I Can’ are invaluable to our young adults. So many of them are very capable, so talented and creative, but their difficulty with social interaction makes it almost impossible to get their foot in the door of companies with career-oriented positions.”
Bret Lieberman, executive director for Yes I Can, said getting companies to see through the stigma surrounding adults with special needs is a difficult job – but LA North was one of the few that gave them a shot.
“I can’t even find the words. I think, what we worked so hard on is trying to demystify what a disability is, and there’s always some stereotype and sometimes companies feel like, ‘Oh, we’re doing them a favor.’ And then with Jake’s situation when we said, ‘We’re sending you somebody who’s trainable, who’s gonna show up on time, who’s got a strong work ethic, who’s intelligent, give them a shot,’ LA North was one of those companies that said, ‘Alright, let’s try with one and if it works out, we want more of your individual.’”
Lieberman said Jake was so impressive that LA North is now asking them to send more of their clients and that is a sentiment that brings relief and optimism within the organization.
“Today they’re like, ‘We want more of your individuals. How do we get more?’” said Lieberman. “When they have people come in, they have that attitude of entitlement versus somebody who is so hungry to get an opportunity, like Jake. So I think he’s a great example of what happens when you work hard and you’re given an opportunity, and you can level out. Getting into the entertainment industry is a hard thing and it’s usually [based] on who you know. We take pride in giving everybody an equal opportunity to shine and [Jake]’s shining.”
As part of Jake’s contract signing ceremony, LA North was also given a certificate of recognition from the office of state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, for being an outstanding employer during National Disability Awareness Month.
“For a person with autism. I would say… this would definitely be a good place to work. I would have to say, I’m always up for anything. I’m willing to try,” said Jake. “I not only completed the internship, I even got my [driver’s] license this week, too. So yeah, a lot of good things have been happening.”