Over just the past two weeks, Nicholas Vales has worked in the courthouse and tagged along for patrols through the mall — as an intern for the Eatontown Police Department.

It’s an opportunity the special-needs Oceanport resident likely never would have gotten if it weren’t for the launch of the state’s first countywide pilot program that provides law enforcement internships to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I always wanted to be a security guard, so this gave me the opportunity to learn,” the 25-year-old said.

Growth Through Opportunity, supported by grants from The Arc of the United States and The Arc of New Jersey, currently has five cadets taking on tasks for five agencies in the county — the police departments of Eatontown, Holmdel, Marlboro and Red Bank, as well as the county prosecutor’s office, which serves as the anchor for the pilot program.

“This is a great experience for them. They get it on their resume, their professional background,” said Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni welcomes cadets to the Growth Through Opportunity program. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

The program lets special-needs citizens gain valuable job skills and social experience, in non-emergency situations, the prosecutor’s office said.

Gramiccioni’s office formally launched the program Wednesday with an event in Freehold. The cadets took a short oath and were presented a “challenge coin,” welcoming them to the law enforcement community.

The adult cadets will spend four months volunteering up to 12 hours weekly, for 16 weeks, with the goal of transitioning to paid employment after graduation, Gramiccioni said.

Founded in November 2014 with the police department in Roanoke, Virginia, the program yields a 98% graduation rate, and has maintained a 90% job placement rate, according to the prosecutor’s office. The program has graduated 15 cadet classes in Minnesota and Virginia. Programs are scheduled to launch soon in California, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

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