The Prospector Theatre, located in Ridgefield, Connecticut, is one of the most successful independent movie theaters in the Tri-State area.
With only four screens, it’s not the choice of films that distinguishes the theater, however, it’s the mission that the non-profit entertainment destination has adopted.
Refurbished in 2014, the re-opened theater became dedicated to providing opportunities for employment to those with disabilities.
The vision of Valerie Jensen, she was inspired to open the non-profit theater seeing how difficult it was for her sister with Down Syndrome to find a job.
More than 70% of the theater’s employees have some form of disability, but that doesn’t stop any of them from filling a variety of roles, including greeting guests, selling and taking tickets, making popcorn, and cleaning the theaters.
Called “prospects,” the employees also get to participate in making ads for the theater, as well as the video they show before every movie.
The Director of Development, Mike Santini explained the theater’s mission to local paper, NewsTimes.
“It’s not just going to the movies,” Santini said. “We’ve built a community here…the movie theater is our vehicle to do that. It brings people into the doors, but in turn they have the opportunity to interact and engage with our prospects and see the talent, the passion and hard work and shatter those expectations of what it means to have a disability.”
People with disabilities are one of the most underemployed populations in the United States, making the Propsector Theater an important player in creating jobs for that segment.
Santini shared that jobs aren’t created at the theater just for the sake of creating jobs, they still need to fill roles that fit within their business, but they encourage their prospects to explore different opportunities in order to figure out what they’re best at.
New hires often try out several roles before finding one that sticks.
As important to the theater as providing employment opportunities is making their movie showings as accessible as possible to people with a variety of disabilities including sensory processing disorders, vision impairment, and hearing impairment.
“We often find that accommodating people with disabilities is an afterthought,” Santini concluded.
“What we want to show the world is that it should be at the forefront. Once you include, engage and employ this population who has long wanted to be a contributing member, the benefits are tenfold.”