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Walgreens training center for autistic employees opens on Dempster

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A strategic alliance between retail giant Walgreens and Evanston-based Have Dreams was celebrated Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting at the new training facility on Dempster Street.

An idea that germinated in 2007 to help provide job preparation and training opportunities for adults with autism, the Center, located a block west of Dodge Avenue, today contains a simulated Walgreens store that enables students to practice the skills needed in a modern Walgreens.

Randy Lewis, a retired Walgreens senior vice president for supply chain and logistics, was on hand, along with Mark Wagner, president of operations and community management for Walgreens, as well as several store managers.

Kris Johnsen, executive director of Have Dreams, lauded the collaboration as “bringing much-needed employment opportunities for young adults with autism in our community.”

She said “the key is to build a support system and partnerships that will guide each of our participants toward a successful job experience and the skills needed for living independently.”

The training involves setting up displays, working the cash register, stocking and organizing shelves, and other critical skill sets that enable the students to make a contribution to a store’s operations.

Walgreens is the nation’s largest drugstore chain, with 8,098 stores and $72 billion in sales. It is currently building an innovative “net zero” store in Evanston that will generate energy through wind, solar, and geothermal  technologies that will actually result in the store selling electricity back into the grid.

Wagner said the announcement of the store generated more media excitement than the store has ever seen and even brought an inquiry from a Japanese tour group that wanted to see the store when it is completed and begins operation.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio stations and business-oriented magazines.

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